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I always imagined the drive scenery to be flat and bare, like driving through the Sahara desert. But I was surprised to see quite a bit of variation, even in the colors of the sand.

Umrah Road-Trip to Makkah & Madinah

As you may know from my previous post, I've moved to the Arabian Gulf (sorry Iran, not Persian Gulf) less than a year ago. One of the great blessings of living in this area is the proximity to our holiest cities, Mecca & Madīnah. And so, as soon as visas opened up for Umrah (they remain closed for a period of time after Hajj), my family jumped at the opportunity, packed the kids into our Sequoia, and off we went into Saudi.

The plan was to take a few pit-stops at homes of friends and family residing near Dammam, Riyadh and Jeddah. The trip went quite well, walhamdulilah, no major hiccups or problems. The weather was still quite pleasant in the Hijaz, so heat wasn't an issue. We were able to spend 2-3 days in Mecca and a couple in Madīnah. The crowds weren't as light as we were hoping for, but based on my discussions with a couple of Bangladeshi workers in the haram, the crowds weren't on the heavy side either. The workers mentioned that the Iranians were coming in a few days with a contingent of 300-400,000, which would then make for really large crowds… happy to avoid :- )

Some thoughts and points of interest:

  • I always imagined the landscape on the drive to be flat and bare, like driving through the Sahara desert. But I was surprised to see quite a bit of variation, even in the colors of the sand. There were tons of rocky hills and rocky terrain. There were even patches of “green desert” with wild vegetation. There were also many huge, inviting farms with large, beautiful trees and herds of animals. Of course, the sight of camel herds (black, white, brown and shades between) is always interesting, coming from a country where camels are only found in the zoo.
  • As we started getting closer to the haram, we noticed that Mecca is surrounded by mountains and how the Kaba is located in a valley.
  • The Umrah itself was quite quick. And alḥamdulillāh, I was finally able to kiss the black stone, courtesy of Rami's-copyrighted method that he shared with us on MM sometime back. I was so confident about the method that I took two kids with me (10-yr old son, and 11-yr old nephew), which I actually later regretted, as I struggled to keep breathing space for the two. I was glad that I had been working out at the gym for a bit, so I could use all my newly-minted muscles to hold back hundreds of pushing folks :- ) And alḥamdulillāh, I did not push even once. Another warning: do NOT try this with your ihram, unless you want to face the possibility of being really, really embarrassed. Rami did not mention this important disclaimer in the article, so I was really lucky to escape with only losing the top piece, which I was somehow able to pull out from underneath the crowd.
  • The drive from Mecca to Madīnah was even more “pretty.” One of the more amazing sights was seeing tons of monkeys in an area where instead of camel-crossing warning signs, there are monkey-crossing warning signs. Excuse my ignorance, not sure what breed these monkeys were or if they were original to this area or imported… if anyone knows (after seeing the photographs), feel free to chime in.
  • In Madīnah, we took a little side trip to the Battle of Uhud area. We climbed the archer's hill, where more than 1400 years ago, the Prophet (S) stationed some sahaba to guard, but who ran down to collect the booty. We visualized the Quraysh army, led by Khalid ibn Waleed (RA) coming around the hill to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
  • In masjid Nabwi, I had the fortune to spend a couple of hours of the night in the rawdah (the section of the original masjid between the Prophet (S)'s house and his mimbar), pray tahajjud and the witr there, as well as read some Qur'an. Those who have visited the masjid can attest to how busy this section is and indeed it was a blessing to be allowed by Allāh to be in this part of paradise on earth.
  • We also went to the Quba masjid, where 2 nawafil earns the reward of umrah. We also stopped at the Qiblatain masjid, imagining how the Prophet (S) was asked to turn from Jerusalem to the Kaba in the middle of ‘aṣr prayer!  Amazing!
  • On the way back, we stopped in Hufoof (Hassa region) and took a tour of the Qasr Ibrahim, a fort built in 963H (1555) by Ali Ibn Ahmed Ibn Lawand Al-Burayki, the Ottomon Governor of the time.  The fort was actually closed to visitors but our request as out-of-town visitors was not turned down by the workers inside. On the way out, the Pathan worker even refused to take a tip for showing us around, quite characteristic of the Pashtun culture.

Some tips for anyone else considering a road-trip from UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, etc.

  • Make sure your vehicle is “prepared” for the trip. Especially important are the tires (check air), and just a general inspection.
  • Unless you don't care about your car's paint, you need to protect the front portion of your vehicle, as it will be literally sand-blasted as you clock 160 km/h (100 mph). Yes you will routinely drive at high speeds; I had it on cruise-control at 150 I think!  To protect the front, you can go to any petrol pump (gas station) in Saudi or some location in your hometown and they can put a coating of fine-sand (yes, sand itself) on the front. Some also use “ferry detergent,” no joke, and that's what I ended up trying (worked fine). The best (more expensive but manageable) protection comes with specifically-designed sprays you can buy at a car accessories shop.
  • About the speed limit, it is 120 km/h, however, you'll be in the slow lane if you want to follow it. On average, people drive at 140-150 km/hr. Don't go over 160 unless the area is really deserted. And watch out for cops under camel overpasses (yes, overpasses built specifically for camel crossing, I kid you not). However, the cops are pretty easy-going. Even if you get stopped, make up a good story and more than likely they'll let you go. A trick mentioned by a friend is to speak in English and pretend you don't know a word of Arabic, which will be so frustrating that they'll just tell you to please get lost!
  • You should plan to make at least one stop between the Saudi border and Mecca. Riyadh is natural. Dammam is good as well, but that will make two stops (Dammam AND Riyadh). In Riyadh, you can find these nice furnished apartments on the cheap. A 2-3 bedroom flat for 200-400 riyal/night. Our stay on the way back was in Buyootat, which was actually very nice.
  • For hotels in Mecca/Madīnah, make reservations for Mecca from your hometown. Where you book depends on your budget. Top of line is Intercontintental (both in Mecca and Madīnah). Hilton is good too. Zamzam in Mecca has a great location, but our stay there wasn't the most memorable. Madīnah hotels are usually much easier to get in. We stayed in “Royal Andalus,” an average suites-only building right on the rear of the masjid Nabwi. It was clean and good enough.
  • If you have more questions concerning a potential road-trip for yourself, feel free to email info at muslimmatters dot org, and they'll put you in touch with me.

Of course, the trip was full of other blissful, blessed and enjoyable events, but I have bored you enough, so let me share photos and videos of the trip, so that we can travel back together to the blessed sanctuaries.

There are over 150 photos in this collection, a few of them make for beautiful screen-savers or mobile phone backgrounds… try it!

www.flickr.com

amadshaikh's road-trip to Makkah & Madinah photoset amadshaikh's road-trip to Mecca & Madīnah photoset

Videos:

Behind Maqame Ibrahim for Maghrib Prayer. I had to quickly stop taping as I don't think the policemen appreciated me videotaping the imām!

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Prophet's Mosque in the Rawdah Pt 1

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Prophet's Mosque in the Rawdah Pt 2

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Near the Prophet's Blessed Grave

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A Quranic Halaqah in the masjid Nabwi

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The Amazing Umbrellas of masjid Nabwi. Taped while they were closing around Ishraq

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alhamdulillah allah asr imam madinah makkah masjid

About Amad

Amad Shaikh is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from the Wharton. He was one of the founders of the TDC, and in what seems like a distant memory, he served as the President of U. Houston's MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Amad is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

38 comments

  1. reminds me of last ramadhans umrah..should go fr a ramadhan umrah bro,u’ll find it totally a different experience

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  2. AA- Amad,

    Wait, let me get this straight. You came through Riyadh and didn’t even bother to contact me?!?!

    Ouch.

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    • lol sorry
      I knew u were in saudi but didn’t realize/remember u were in riyadh… But my stopovers were very short… Didn’t even get to meet friend who was planning to!
      But if u r hosting my family for a night, u got it next time :) and Ure always welcome at my home if u venture out here!

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  3. I remember sitting under the umbrellas (during the days the women were taken to pray in the Rawdah) and how they opened up on us randomly, it was so nice!

    oh and the monkeys lol…we saw one in Taif drinking a Pepsi….yep…

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  4. aamir hashim shekhani

    Hi Amad,

    You passed by Dammam and did not call here or pass by. I thought you were better than that buddy. anyways do try to pass by next time and you are more than welcome to stay.

    aamir.

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    • soooo sorry Aamir… it would have been great to meet up with you, what 20 years since we were in school in Dubai??? wow… the trip plan was kind of made in a rush, and we have family in Jubail… so I just didn’t think about it…

      next time inshallah, won’t be too long… you and Naeem…

      and of course you are invited to my adopted city too… anytime.

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  5. Assalaamu alaikum,

    Jazak Allah khair. I enjoyed reading it.

    The “green desert” is mainly due to the heavy rains the western region received this year. Anyone who normally travels on the Jeddah-Makkad road will know it’s normally a desert (no green), but this year it turned green subhanaAllah.

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  6. Asalamu Alikum warahmatu Allah

    Nice photos, mashaAllah. Jazakum Allah khair.

    Just a kind reminder; please do not speed on the roads. Although the cops may be lenient, and this is one of the biggest issues concerning the disaster on the roads, please do not take advantage of that.

    Not only are there camels that can come out all of the sudden on the road, there are also other humans with us. If Allah willed that something were to happen to someone else because of our speeding, we might be questioned about it in front of Allah because it was in our control.

    When the authorities are easy-going, it is even more important to rely on taqwa. May Allah protect us and you.

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  7. Greatly appreciate the pics Amad bhai, except for the funeral pictures.

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  8. loved the pictures and videos masha’Allah! i’ve been very nostalgic and now i am even more. may Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala allow all those who would like to go, the opportunity to do so and may Allah accept from us all – ameen!

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  9. “We also stopped at the Qiblatain Masjid, imagining how the Prophet (S) was asked to turn from Jerusalem to the Kaba in the middle of Asr prayer!”
    The Prophet صلى اللّه عليه وسلم is not the one that was leading at Qiblatain. It was a companion that was leading Salah there, when another companion passed by and informed that the qiblah had been changed. Even so, that being Masjid Qiblatain is not completely authenticated.

    Nice recap though.

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    • Jazakallahkhair… i didn’t know that.

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    • Oooh…I was just going to make that comment too. When I went for Hajj 6 months ago, I was told the same thing by a student of knowledge from Madinah University who was leading our ziyaarah. It’s not 100% certain whether the qiblah actually changed at Masjid Qiblatain.

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  10. “Even if you get stopped, make up a good story and more than likely they’ll let you go. A trick mentioned by a friend is to speak in English and pretend you don’t know a word of Arabic”

    Lovely article but I am saddened to read this suggestion to lie on an Islamic blog. Road safety is a big issue in this part of the world and excessive speeds are one of the reasons for the high number of road accidents.

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    • Good point, bad judgment on my part for mentioning the “trick”.
      I will say “excessive speed” is relative. It seemed to me that it may be less safe to drive slower… maybe Saudi residents can comment on driving slower and the perils associated with that… wallahualam.

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  11. Assalaam alaikum,

    160kph is excessive. Even when driving through the desert you need to exercise some caution due to the perils associated with those journeys. I don’t think 120kpm is driving slower! Btw, I am a Saudi resident and have made the road trips from Riyadh to Makkah/Madinah/Emirates serveral times.

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    • I didn’t say you were not a resident sister. Just opening the floor for you and others who are residents.

      Don’t disagree with you. Everyone should take your opinion over my observation.

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      • Not a problem, just clarifying. ;)

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        • lol. that is why I don’t like communicating over the internet and why nothing beats personal communication.

          Anyways, great article and beautiful pics. Makes me want to visit Makkah for Umrah even though I would like the first trip to be for Hajj so people will call me ‘hajjiya’ or ”mrs hajji” :)

          Astagfirullah, of course not, but there are people who do do that. But seriously Inshallah hajj first.

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    • AA-

      “Btw, I am a Saudi resident and have made the road trips from Riyadh to Makkah/Madinah/Emirates serveral times”

      Yeah, but *you* didn’t drive. hahahaha….lame Saudi joke. Couldn’t help myself.

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    • I learned how to drive in Saudi, 120kpm is the minimum on Saudi highways and 150-160 is the average. If u drive at 120 in the left most lane, u will tailgate’d pretty bad. After driving in saudi it feels like I m crawling on US highways!

      On a side note: many Saudis do fear that when women will be allowed to drive then there will be too many slow drivers who will slow everyone down.

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  12. What a fun trip! Combining the enjoyment of a road-trip with the iman-rush of visiting the haramain and performing such lofty acts of worship! *Sigh*…how fortunate you all are. May Allah accept your umrah and other acts of worship (especially the exclusive privileges such as kissing the black stone, and praying in Riyad Al-Jannah) and take us pining Muslims there too, very soon. Ameen.

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  13. Regarding those surprising green surroundings, I’ve written it here… Quite intriguing.

    The only reason why its difficult to drive @ 120 is because it seems sooooo slow on the highway. Other than that there’s no reason why driving fast will make a difference… not considering of course the time and the danger.

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  14. I posted a comment.. doesn’t seem to have come up?

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  15. my eyes are getting all teary..dammam is my hometown :( man i miss saudi :(((

    brother amad, i didnt realize u moved. i thought it was just a posting in ramadan for official reasons. did u really make a permanent move? i would like to read an article in the future about your experiences living in the _____ (idk u didnt mention the place, cmon no one is gonna stalk on you)

    btw did u say dammam is good? lol i think it looks primitve compared to riyadh.

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  16. may Allah ta`ala accept your umrah and eebadat…

    these kind of trips are indeed memorable and can be uplifting for the family…if time permits insha`Allah, i’ll share a similar trip we made… at that time it was Ryd-Madina-Mecca-Abha-Ryd..

    if you pass this way again, don’t miss to stop by Abha, you won’t believe your in Saudi, its very nice weather in the summer time, lots of rains and green mountains….the road from Mekkah to Abha is truly beautiful but a bit dangerous along the mountain sides, I hope they’ve expanded it, so go easy on the gas pedal…

    subhanAllah, when I read the articles from the brothers/sisters regarding their sacrifices in visiting the holy places, I realize the blessing of living only an hour away from the Haram and a few hours away from Madina and to add to those blessings, Allah’s beautiful creation of the Red sea and the beach side…alhamdullillahi hamdan katheeran…and i always thought Ryd was the best place when I lived there..subhanAllah how perceptions change..

    drop a line next time you pass by…
    tamim

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    • Please do share your experiences from your road-trip… email them to me, inshallah!

      One to-do I missed was to check out the area for the Battle of Badr…

      I also heard from one friend that there is a place near Madinah where cars speed up in neutral shift (and no, not on inclines :) )… not sure if its a wind-tunnel effect or what, but I’d love to take our MIT genius, Ahmad with me :) Anyone else heard of this place?

      Btw, where is Abha?

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      • yeah heard bout that when we went there…but am not a fan of jinns as they say…its called wadi.e.jinn….there is a video bout it on youtube as well..read the caption…..didnt watch it though..

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  17. Peace,
    Your Umra trip was more concentrated towards praying in Prophet’s Mosque. The Hadith says curse on those Jews and Christians who made their prophets burial ground as worshipping ground.
    You might say you did not worshipped, but you did you prayer near that. Umrah or Hajj is to visit only Mecca and not Medina. Mecca is the ONLY sacred masjid mentioned in Quran and built by Ibrahim (PBUH). God save the Muslims for corrupting God’s religion and challenging and inviting God’s retribution on them.

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    • Siraj, I’ll assume you did not have the knowledge of this matter before making some strong contentions, but there is a great reward to pray in Masjid Nabwi, in Madinah. There is even more blessing in praying in the section called “rawdah”

      Suffice it to say, the Prophet (PBUH) has said:

      “One prayer in my mosque is better than one thousand prayers in any other mosque excepting Al-Masjid Al-Haram.” (Bukhari)

      The Prophet (PBUH) has also said, “What is between my house and my minbar is a garden (Rawdah) from the gardens (Riyadh) of Paradise”.

      Next time, pls ask for an explanation… inshallah, you’ll get one.

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  18. very good description of the journey. by the way where is ‘arabian gulf’

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  19. For supposedly an educated person – you seem quite bogoted.

    On almost all maps printed before 1960, and in most modern international treaties, documents and maps, this body of water is known by the name “Persian Gulf”. This reflects traditional usage since the Greek geographers Strabo and Ptolemy, and the geopolitical realities of the time with a powerful Persian Empire (Iran) comprising the whole northern coastline and a scattering of local emirates on the Arabian coast. It was referred to as the Persian Gulf in the Arabic by the writer Agapius, writing in the 10th century.

    Do you have a problem with history and reality? If you are a revisonist than you wont be able to handle historic truths…

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    • I have no problem with history sir and would like historical facts to be presented truthfully whether they please us or otherwise. All world maps still rightly refer to that area as the ‘Persian Gulf’ with the exception of a few who want to rewrite history and geography.

      The Arabian Sea was, is and will always be the Arabian Sea and not Persian Sea or Pakistani Sea. Similarly the Persian Gulf should be the Persian Gulf and not anything else.

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  20. Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing.

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