Afriqah Imani joined dozens of Muslim community members from the Milwaukee area for a Winter Umrah from December 22 to 31.

Organized through ISM Brookfield, Imani and her fellow pilgrims visited the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. This Q&A talks about her experiences along the journey.

Q: Was this your first Umrah, and how was the experience different from a Ḥajj?

This was not my first Umrah. I have gone several times since 2005. Things have changed over the years in both Makkah and Medinah in terms of accessibility. New hotels have arisen, allowing closer access to both Harams. Because I am familiar with both, it was a different experience. But it is a different experience each time I go. Just being invited to Allah’s house, and having the opportunity to return several times is simply beautiful.

Q: What was your favorite part of the Umrah? And did anyone who travelled with you from Milwaukee have a similar impression?

My favorite part of Umrah is the anticipation leading up to actually going, then arriving. It is an awesome feeling that I cannot put into words that would adequately convey what is in my heart. I think anyone in our group who had never been before this trip, probably had the same experience. Allahu Alim

Q: Can you describe the highlights of your trip?

Just being in the House of Allah is, in and of itself, beyond belief. Then a very special feeling came over me both at the Ka’aba and at Masjid Al Nabwi giving salaams to our Beloved Nabi Mustapha (SAW). Both of these experiences were and are the most important highlights for me. Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to it.

Q: What part of Umrah are you most excited to share with your non-Muslim friends?

My friends who are non-Muslim experienced my journey as it happened, for the most part, because I posted my travel diary on Facebook. I wanted both Muslims and non-Muslims to see first hand my adventure. InshaAllah it will inspire Muslims to go for Umrah, and to invite non-Muslims to learn about Islam.

Q: Of all the people you met along the journey, who was the most interesting and why?

The most interesting and loving person I met was my roommate from California, Nasreen Kausar. She was so amazing. It was her first time coming for Umrah and she was elated. She was so kind. We exchanged gifts and hung out the whole time, both in Makkah and Medinah, and we have stayed in touch since.

Q: Have you seen any impact between the sacred history of Mecca and the modern commercialization?

There is significant commercialization in both of the Holy cities. It disturbs me because I dislike to see so much business activity in these beautiful Holy lands.

Q: In November, the Saudi foreign ministry started prohibiting photos and videos in Mecca’s Masjid al-Haram and Medina’s Masjid an-Nabawi in part due to the disruption from Selfies. What was your observation of pilgrims recording their journey?

Personally, I think it was a long overdue decision by the Saudi government. When you come for Hajj or Umrah, you are coming for a specific purpose – Labaik Allahuma Labaik – to Worship and Glorify our Lord and Master, not for picture taking.

I saw many pilgrims taking selfies. While I understand their earnestness to record and share, their focus should be for the purpose intended. I truly wish pilgrims were only allowed to take pictures outside rather than inside, but I did not see any Saudi authorities stop anyone from doing so.

Q: Do you have a message for individuals in Milwaukee who are considering a Umrah?

For Milwaukee Muslims who have not been to Umrah, make the intention to go and tie your camel (process passport, get immunizations, save funds). Study the many aspects of Umrah so you know how to perform the rites, because the group leader cannot always be with you. Then enjoy the experience of Umrah.