My Journey to Holy land and Performing Umrah under new guidelines following the pandemic.

My Journey to Holy land and Performing Umrah under new guidelines following the pandemic.

By Faz Patel

The information is correct as of today 12th October.

During the pandemic, my grandfather and I decided we would go for umrah as soon as travel restrictions were lifted.  As we regularly went for Umrah, we were aware on how we would be planning our trip. With Allah’s blessing, I tend to go for umrah every year so I was well aware of what to do. Sadly, in December 2020, my grandfather passed away but before he passed, he left his small bag which contained his ihram, slippers, belt money bag and his tasbih, which we were supposed to use during the trip after the pandemic. I decided in early 2021, that as soon as umrah opened up, I would go on behalf of my grandfather. For me it was going to be a very emotional trip, especially because I was going to be wearing my grandfather’s ihram during Umrah. When the Saudi government informed the public that the Umrah season will open in August 2021 I decided that if I got the opportunity I would definitely go. And I surely got that opportunity – Alhamdulillah! So, here’s a little story about my trip to the blessed Cities – Makkah and Medina along with some other cities.

As Umrah opened during the pandemic everyone knew it was going to be a very different trip. I familiarised myself with the new system with the support of my friends here and Saudi Arabia. If you are a regular traveller, it will be easy with just a little adjustment here and there. I was happy that I could perform umrah on the tourist visa , which can be brought online. Prior to going to Saudi Arabia, I made sure my PCR test was carried out within 72 hours prior to me flying out, and as a person who has been jabbed twice, I was excited to start my journey to the blessed cities of Makkah and Medina. As I was flying from Heathrow, I made sure I had my mask and made sure I wore one throughout the duration of the journey. It was also interesting to talk to the cabin crew about the travelling and how it had an impact on the aviation industry. Before I could travel, I managed to upload proof of both my vaccines on the Saudi Muqeem website , which was an easy process. It asks simple questions such as dates of when I took my vaccinations. I was given a reference number which I ensured I kept safe.

ZamZam bottles are being distributed inside the Masjid-e-Nabawi. But water coolers are also back now.

Once I arrived at Jeddah International Airport and as soon as the doors opened the heat hit me on my face and I cherished the moment, realising how lucky I was that I had a chance to embark on this special trip during the crisis. Wearing my mask, with my suitcase in tow, I looked at the new Jeddah Airport which was huge. Inside the airport there is a small train station which takes you to the arrivals. I went through the customs, and one of the staff greeted me and welcomed me to Saudi Arabia. She checked all my documents, as is the normal procedure, and processed my passport and asked for my Muqeem reference number as previously mentioned.

Once I got my passport, I had to wait 4 hours to take my next flight to the Prophets City Medina. During these 4 hours I managed to buy myself a sim card with unlimited data costing approx 180 SR. Whilst waiting, I had a lovely meal at Al Baik  which is a very well known chicken restaurant in Saudi Arabia. It is important for any residents or tourists embarking on this beautiful pilgrimage Post COVID19, to download the Tawakkalna app (COVID19 app to prevent the spread of COVID19 virus). This app can be downloaded on a smart phone and the instructions are very simple. They ask for your name and passport number, date of birth and once entered you will then get a green box with a bar code which is proof that you have been immunised. You will need this app wherever you go in Saudi Arabia, mosques, mall, barbers, restaurant etc, so you can show security.

Once it is uploaded you have to download the Eatmarna app. This is an app to book your prayer times etc. that is a fairly simple process too. It all sounds complicated but don’t worry, the simple instructions are translated in English and will take you 10 minutes to complete the process on both apps. There is also help available at the airport, and once all this has been completed you are ready to go.

Whilst waiting to go to the City of Medina, I explored the new airport and prayed my morning Fajr salah. I then went to my gate to fly to the Prophet’s city. It was approximately 7am when I arrived at Medina airport. I was so emotional to be back at the Prophet’s city. When I arrived, I could smell the beauty of the blessed city. I got my luggage and off I went to my hotel. I rested, had a quick shower and then made my way to the Prophet’s Mosque. As I was travelling in the Post COVID19  era it was very different to my earlier trips. Here, I had to wear a mask – which was compulsory – and every time I went to the mosque I had to show my Tawakkalna app.

 For the Prophet’s Mosque you don’t have to book for any prayer times as you only need your health pass to go to the mosque. You need to the adhere to the rules by keeping one meter distance. The prophet’s city is full of peace and tranquillity as well as the mosque, I was grateful to be back in the blessed city of Medina. The only thing you need here, to pray in the Rawdah, or to do salaam paysh, is the Eatmarna app to book the slots. The slots are in 30 minute intervals which you can book in advance, and a QR Code will be given which needs to be shown to the guards before you are allowed in. This process is fairly easy too. Being able to pray at the Prophet’s Mosque was so beautiful and peaceful. This time I had many chances to pray in the Rawdah without any pushing or shoving. I booked my slot and as I slowly entered, people were told to sit down keeping a one meter distance and we were told to go to the Rawdah. I felt so blessed and happy that I could pray and had a lot of chances to reflect in this blessed part of the world. As I finished my prayers, I had a chance to do salaam paysh which I spent doing during most of my days in Medina. I have also noticed that many businesses were closed due to the pandemic. Day by day each business was opening as more pilgrims were now coming to Saudi Arabia. It was my chance to engage with many people in Medina Shareef and share how the pandemic was affecting us in the UK. Over the 5 days in Medina, I noticed that 24 hours a day all the area was sanitised and cleaned so the pilgrims and residents would be safe. Everywhere I went they asked for my Tawakkalna pass.

 In Medina I met a few of my friends and also had a lot of time to reflect and be thankful to Allah that he has given me the chance to visit the Prophet’s City. It was an emotional time when I was leaving as I have always enjoyed staying in the city. The following day I would be leaving to go to the blessed city of Makkah. But before I left, I booked my umrah on the Eatmarna app. I chose to go after 9pm.

It is always a pleasure meeting friends

Arriving Makkah

As I arrived in Makkah in my late grandfathers ihram, I knew it was going to be a very emotional part of my journey. Memories of my grandfather were with me and I wished he was walking alongside me as we had planned.  I checked into my hotel and had a short rest and then went to perform my umrah. As I walked, I had to adjust to the new system and find out which gate I would be entering the Holy Mosque from. Due to the COVID19 restriction I entered the Holy Mosque from King AbdulAziz gate and was greeted by military personnel. They checked my QR code and I preceded into the Holy Mosque. As I preceded, I could see the thermal imaging cameras detecting all the temperatures of the pilgrims as they made their way inside the mosque. After that I was slowly walking inside, with all the people walking inside near the Mataf area. It was so emotional to see the Holy Kaaba and I still couldn’t believe that I was there. Allhamudllilah, I managed to do my tawaf and my sai in a very easy way under strict COVID19 rules. Once I had finished my umrah, I then spent a few days in Makkah, praying and also visiting some other historical sites. As for prayers, in Makkah I had to use the Eatmarna app to book my prayers which was fairly easy. I would advise people that if they do go Madinah first try to book your prayers first by using the app. As we are currently going through a pandemic, in Saudi Arabia you will need your tawakkalna app pass and a mask is mandatory. As the days went by, I could see the increase capacity in the pilgrims entering the Holy Mosque and it was lovely to see that slowly it was going back to normality.

Apart from Makkah, I had a chance to visit many Islamic historical sites and also had the chance to visit the exhibition of The Two Holy Mosques and the Kiswah factory. As I had the tourist visa, I also had the chance to visit the city of Taif which is approximately 87 kilometres away from Makkah. I spent 2 days with my friends from Saudi, and also had the chance to visit some beautiful historical sites in Taif. Taif is a city which is approx  6000ft and the temperature is cooler than Makkah. If you have a tourist visa, make sure you go here as many people will enjoy it and it smells of roses. After Taif I had the chance to visit the city of Jeddah which is a very lovely city, where I had a chance to meet many of my friends and had the chance to shop and explore the old city centre of Balad.

Beautiful city of Taif with cooler temperature than Makkah.

This is just a snapshot of my lovely trip, and as the days and weeks go past, I am sure we will see an increase in the number of pilgrims and I also pray that everyone has a chance to go and visit the blessed city of Makkah and Medina. I do miss the Tawakkalna app as it was reassuring that you, and everyone else was safe and the authority is protecting the residents and tourists. Even the mask was compulsory in mosques and everywhere in Saudi  in order to prevent spreading of COVID19. As I was coming back from Jeddah International Airport there was no Zamzam water available. But in the future, the airport staff did say that Zamzam will be back for people to take back home. If you’re free please do pop down for zamzam and dates.  For more information feel free to follow me on twitter @FazPatel_MBE

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