Khurshid Akhtar Khan Muslims believe that the pilgrimage of Haj is an exclusive privilege that can be performed strictly by invitation from Allah the Almighty. Our group of 295 men and women was among the 2.8 million Muslims that were fortunate enough to be invited this year from around the world to visit the holy land. The spirit of Haj emanates immediately subsequent to ones resolve to undertake this journey that carries numerous complexities and uncertainties. The entire sojourn is an exercise in community living where everyone presents oneself at the House of God and shares the objective of self-purification. It is also a test of ones convictions, forbearance and tolerance for which elaborate spiritual and physical preparations are made, relevant information is gathered and exchanged months in advance. Essentially, Haj is the mere presence at the vast grounds of Arafat on the 9th. Zil Haj. However, the performance of Haj is governed by certain principles and procedures, laid out by scholars that must be observed in letter and in spirit, and which also include tawaf, stay at Mina, Muzdalfa and rami (a symbolic gesture to stone the shaitaan). Any visit to the holy land is not complete without a visit to Medina that has assumed the status of a necessary element of Haj to get the full blessings of this privilege. This holy city of peace had welcomed Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in 622AD when the atrocities of the residents of Makkah had become unbearable and the Prophet (PBUH) was ordained to migrate. Many pilgrims ensure a stay of eight days to enable them to offer 40 prayers in Masjid-i-Nabvi that is believed to be of special significance. Our group selected Medina as the first destination prior to proceeding for Makkah. The city, in general, and the Masjid-i-Nabvi, in particular, has an indescribable sense of tranquillity and serenity, perhaps because it is where the Holy Prophet (PBUH) spent the remaining years of his life, and from where Islam rose to be the second largest religion of the world that presently encompasses 1.6 billion people of various cultures and races, speaking different languages, but united by the religion of Islam. This glorious mosque is also the final resting place of the Prophet (PBUH) in the company of his two most trusted lieutenants and the first two caliphs, Abu Bakar and Umar, and is the second holiest site in Islam - the first being the Masjid-al-Haram in Makkah. The mosque was built by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself on his arrival at Medina by using basic materials with a Mehrab that led to his private quarters. The original mosque was 98x115 ft. with three doors and initially, prayers were offered facing north towards Jerusalem until the Qibla was reoriented to face the Kaaba. The mosque with minarets on its corners and the green dome at the centre has been continuously enlarged and more doors have been added over the years, beginning from the Umayyad to the Abbassids to the Ottomans, who employed craftsmen and calligraphers of different regions to beautify and embellish it. The extension of the mosque has not stopped. Since 1932, the House of Saud has added two additional minarets. King Faisal and King Fahad have enlarged the building by a further five times to accommodate prayer offering by the ever-growing number of pilgrims. Twenty-seven moving domes have been installed at the roof creating light wells for the prayer hall and modern comforts like ventilation, air-conditioning, and escalators leading to upper floor have been incorporated. The open courtyards in the prayer halls are covered with beautifully designed umbrella tents. The large paved area around the mosque has been provided with shade by erecting rows of similar delightful state-of-the-art umbrella tents resembling canopies, affixed to freestanding columns that are electrically and noiselessly folded in the evenings. The old mosque is contained within the new mosque, both of which are distinguishable by the decorations and the number of pillars. The lower and upper prayer halls can now accommodate more than half a million people. The prayer halls are kept immaculately clean at all times. One is instantaneously captivated by the grandeur and the architecture at the very first glance at the mosque. To the believer, it is a source of inspiration as never experienced before. Add to it the lyrical sweet voice of the Moazzin, whose appointment is considered an honour, and it is enough to bring tears to ones eyes in the devotion of Allah and in gratitude for the opportunity to present oneself at this sacred spot. The spectacle of total strangers of varied nationalities and cultures suddenly emerging from all nooks and corners at the sound of Azaan, quietly walking towards the mosque, mulling together with a mysterious one-ness can only be described as overwhelming. The faithful display ultimate self-imposed discipline by standing with humility in formation of rows in answer for prayers recited only in the single language of the Holy Quran. May Allah grant all of us His blessing to experience it ourselves. The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur. Email: