Besides viewing awesome sites that are culturally and religiously significant, travellers on ziarah tours come away with a better understanding of their faith.
A ziarah (visit of religious significance) to the Mausoleum of Imam Shafi’i in Cairo, Egypt, last year gave Wan Noorazila Wan Othman a fresh perspective of her faith. The monument was built in honour of the imam who founded the Shafi’i school of thought in Islam.
“Muslims in Malaysia follow the Syafi’i school of thought. That trip gave me a new outlook on my religion,” says the 36-year-old administrative assistant manager at a private university in Selangor.
The mausoleum is one of many sites in ziarah packages that are gaining popularity among Muslim travellers. “We often learn about holy sites through religious texts and books. However, it would be a good experience to visit and see these places ourselves,” offers Wan Noorazila, who visited the mausoleum as part of a ziarah tour which extended to Mecca and Medina.
Wan Noorazila’s daughter Khamelia Kharena, nine, who accompanied her, echoes her mother’s thoughts. “Seeing the historical Islamic places with my own eyes helped me gain a better understanding of religious studies at school,” says Khamelia.
For the young girl, hiking up to the Cave of Hira at night and praying inside the cavern with her father was a particularly memorable experience. The venue is notable as the place Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from God through the angel Jebril.
Khamelia also enjoyed her trip to Jabal Rahmah, the mountain in Arafah where Prophet Adam reunited with his wife Hawa (Eve) after four decades of separation after being banished from Paradise by God.
Both Wan Noorazila and her daughter did not miss out on the shopping at the many bazaars in Mecca and Medina that sell a plethora of items such as clothings for Muslims and perfumes. However, Wan Noorazila makes it a point to be moderate with her purchases as she doesn’t want shopping to be the main agenda of her ziarah.
“Mecca and Medina, besides being revered as holy cities, are also shopping heavens. A lot of Muslim attire is sold at the myriad of bazaars that dot the landscape of these cities. But I try to be prudent as I’m reminded by my uztad to not let shopping distract me from being closer to my faith,” she reveals.
Ar-Raudhah Travel & Tours director Azwan Safuan Zam, 25, says the perennial ziarah favourites are Turkey, Egypt and Yemen. “From my observations, there has been an increased demand for ziarah packages over the years,” he says.
Mayflower Tours deputy general manager Abdul Rahman Mohamed, 46, concurs. “In the past, the demand for Islamic travel wasn’t that good. However, in recent years, the number of Muslim travellers has at least doubled,” he says. Mayflower also organises halal tours to places such as China, Spain and Portugal.
According to Azwan, it’s vital for travellers who are interested in going on a ziarah to seek out tour agencies that are registered with the Tourism and Culture Ministry. These agencies must also be recognised by the Hajj Ministry of Saudi Arabia to avoid fraud.
His company offers tour packages that incorporate elements of ziarah and umrah (minor pilgrimage). The tour to Cairo and Alexandria, for instance, will also bring travellers to Medina and Mecca before returning to local shores.
Azwan says Muslims usually make a beeline for Medina’s Al-Nabawi Mosque, aka the Prophet’s Mosque as it houses Prophet Muhammad’s mausoleum. The Al-Nabawi Mosque is considered the second holiest site in Islam after the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca.
The itinerary to Yemen, according to Azwan, includes visits to Wadi Dhar and Dar al-Hajar, which the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board lists as a classic example of Yemeni architecture. Otherwise known as the Rock Palace, Dar al-Hajar was built in 1786 by Imam Mansour Ali Mahdi Abbas, who belonged to the Qasimid family descended from Prophet Muhammad.
As for the tour to Istanbul, Azwan says, iconic landmarks such as the Blue Mosque, Green Mosque and Topkapi Palace are considered must-visit sites. Built from 1609 to 1616, the Blue Mosque (aka Sultan Ahmed Mosque) achieved global fame for the blue tiles that adorn its interior walls. The building incorporates traditional Islamic architecture and is regarded as the last great mosque of the classical period.
Meanwhile, Topkapi Palace was the primary royal residence of the Ottoman sultans for almost four centuries. The religious significance of the venue comes from the fact that it’s home to important holy relics of the Muslim world, such as Prophet Muhammad’s cloak and sword.
Avid traveller Nornabillah Md Said, 27, visited the Blue Mosque and the Green Mosque, as well as Mevlana Museum, during her visit to Turkey last year. Located in Konya, the museum also houses the mausoleum of the Persian poet and theologian Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi. The revered poet’s works about love and God are very popular in Turkey, the US and South Asia.
Above all, Nornabillah likes to experience Islamic culture abroad. “It’s always fascinating to observe how other Muslims practise the faith in other countries,” says the sales co-ordinator. “When you visit these Islamic venues, it does help you to immerse yourself better in the religion as well as Islamic culture,” she concludes.