Saudi Arabia is a fascinating country, rich in Islamic history and is one country that is less likely to scream tourism. It’s just how it is in Saudi Arabia.
Do you think you will ever get to visit the Arabian wonders you might have heard of from a Muslim friend or two? Well, if you are Muslim, your chances of visiting those wonders are higher. If you are non-Muslim, I hate to break it to you, but 5 of the 6 sites I’m about to cover below are strictly forbidden for entry if your religion is other than a Muslim. Therefore this article is to help shed some light into the notable Arabian wonders and hopefully help everyone beat some of that curious bug out.
1. Mount Arafah
Mount Arafah is 750 meters high and is about 20km south-east of Mecca. It is said that Arafah is where Adam and Eve reunited when they were sent down to reside on earth. They were both sent down to earth to two different parts of the world and eventually found one another in Arafah.
It is outside the plains of Arafah where Prophet Muhammad, during his last years, delivered the Khutbah or sermon. Today the same location where Masjid Namira is built, the Khateeb or Imam will deliver the sermon to remind of the Hajj congregation and thereafter the adhan or the call for prayer will be announced.
2. The Red Sea
Home to colourful, hard and soft coral reef, The Red Sea is the world’s northernmost tropical sea and beyond the vast blue ocean, lies Sudan and Egypt. The picture above was taken in Jeddah, that’s right, the city that allows access to the world. Which means if you ever visit this place, you can either explore Jeddah or take a run on diving and explore the sea’s ancient wrecks. The Red Sea is barely untouched and unexplored, which makes it the best place to learn and understand more of what it has to offer.
Unfortunately, the closest I got to The Red Sea is by having lunch with 20 other people on the beach with strong winds blowing in our faces. I hope to visit The Red Sea again one day.
3. MOUNT THAWR OR JABAL THAWR
As I recall arriving at this site, I can’t help but imagine what it’s like to hideout in a cave. I often find myself day dreaming at historical sites, and being so close to Mount Thawr, I imagined and pictured the historic events like I’m watching the History Channel about the very people who once step foot in these mountains.
Mount Thawr is a mountain which within it, is a cave known as Ghar al-Thawr (cave of the bull). Standing at 1,405 meters high, the cave was where Prophet Muhammad and his companion Abu Bakr sought refuge from the Quraish during the migration of Medina. The mountain is located south of the district of Misfalah which is in the lower parts of Mecca.
4. Mount Uhud
I’d have to say, this Mountain may not look like much but I was caught in awestruck looking at Mount Uhud because this is where the Battle of Uhud took place. It was the second battle between the Muslims and the Meccans. It was within these very mountains where Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, Hamza lost his life, it is the battle where Prophet Muhammad almost lost his too, due to disobeyed orders by his Muslim archers, which eventually lead to a significant loss for the Muslim army.
5. AL MASJID AN NABAWI
The incredible feeling you get when you enter this mosque is like being an astronaut. Instead of reading or looking at pictures through a book or listening to your teacher in class about space, you-get-to-be-in space. In this case, you are at the very centre of Islam and its historical presence. As you enter, you are sure to feel the dessert heat, and even though it is scorching hot, every single human being you see, was rushing to the call of prayer, to feel the presence of Prophet Muhammad who originally built it, and most of all, rushing to be closer to the Almighty.
Situated in the second holiest city of Medina, it is one of the world’s largest mosque and it boasts exceptional architecture equipped with its high-tech gigantic umbrellas as an ingenious solution to improve the mosque’s micro- climate. All umbrellas open and close simultaneously, which takes only 3 minutes. It truly is a captivating scene to watch.
6. MASJID AL-HARAM
Like Al-Masjid An Nabawi, everyone was hustling to the call of prayer. In Masjid Al-Haram, the hustling and the bustling is enormous. This grand mosque fits in 2.5 million worshippers at one go and is the largest mosque in the world. It is incredibly enormous that a standard football stadium can only fit a 100,000 people at one go. And I was very fortunate to be right smack in it.
As I recall, every morning for the next remaining week of my stay in Mecca, waking up in the morning before sunrise to join other pilgrims was the best times I’ve ever experienced. The sites and sounds of millions of pilgrims clad in white cloth resembling all mankind, in that moment are equal, despite gender, race and age. Everyone was just in tune, and all of a sudden all the other worldly things you left back at home doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
Although Saudi Arabia is not big on tourism, Mecca is the closest to tourism they will ever get. When I visited the mosque, there were already on-going constructions for expansion to cater for the ever growing pilgrims from around the world. Many of my Muslim friends have asked me about the dust situation, or when would be the best time to visit and avoid the construction. Well, the good news is the expansion work has been completed.
When I visited Saudi Arabia, I was embarking on a spiritual journey called the Umrah, which is why I had access to these sites. I have to admit it was mentally challenging. The relentless desert heat, the immense amount of people, the amount of discipline you need to complete a day for 2 weeks, it was more than I bargained for. At the end, it was all worth it.
Fret not. A non-Muslim is not totally forbidden from entering other parts of Saudi Arabia. There are world heritage and historical sites by UNESCO that allow access to non-Muslim travellers to explore. Jeddah, Taif, Madain Saleh, Al Soudah (The Asir National Park), Wahba Crater and the Red Sea, are numerous sites that are accessible to the world. Surely these are also sites that I have yet to visit, but I hope to one day make my way to them.