Madinah calling: Exploring the Prophet’s city
Madinah calling: Exploring the Prophet’s city
Madinah has been a keen interest for many khalifats during the numerous Islamic dynasties in the past, taking care of the city has always been a priority. It has always been an important city in Islam, the second holiest city after Makkah Al-Mukarramah, and for centuries the city has expanded around Masjid Al-Nabawi and protected by four beautifully constructed historical gates. The city loved the Prophet (pbuh) and which he in turn loved, the care of the city was always a priority for the caliphates, the Saudi government and the residents of the city for years.
Photography is one of the best methods of capturing the essence of a location, and what best way to preserve a city’s history than through a lens. Moath Al-Ofi is a photographer, born and raised in the holy city and for years he’s been searching for the old city of Madinah and discovering its true essence one picture at a time. “I’ve been away from my city due to my studies abroad for about eight years and was very surprised with the amount of change the city has gone through in the time I was away. It was like it was a new place with a new life, areas outside Madinah where we used to spend weekends became new neighborhoods connected to the city and the old were transformed into new. The expansion is all around the city and because of this, I had come up with the idea of searching for the city in early 2013 and have since rediscovered some of the hidden gems of this beautiful city.”
Every historic city has its hidden treasures buried among the concrete jungle of the 21st century and Madinah is no exception. The city is going through a major overhaul to accommodate the vast amounts of pilgrims and visitors, from foreigners to locals, that flock the city all year around, so it’s easy to get lost in its wonder. The city’s grand history speaks for itself and for years people have been flocking into the city, some pass by and some settle due to its beauty and profound importance. Some might wonder why someone would go and dig into the past, why wouldn’t they cover the marvels of everyday life? The answer is simple, what makes a place special is its humble beginnings.
“Old is gold, I personally am very connected with the old Madinah along with its notable neighborhoods and alleyways. I believe that the city will truly prosper and become great but I tend to stay close to the old. I feel like it’s a race against time, I’m always searching and documenting what I find in order to preserve it the way it is. It’s a wonder how things change so fast but then that’s natural evolution for the better. People don’t really know Madinah the way residents see it and that’s where I try to come in. I’m documenting what I find and post it on social media to educate others, to show the essence of Madinah and give them a glimpse of its true inhabitants.”
Moath’s photos are not centered solely around Masjid Al-Nabawi, he goes deep into the city’s old neighborhoods, historic mosques, locations of great battles, abandoned castles, souqs and he frequently visits and documents the surrounding mountains of the city and features tidbits of the significance of a certain mountain. He also ventures outside of the city walls and villages, valleys and craters spread about Madinah’s province.
“I’m rediscovering relatively unknown areas, I was fortunate enough to get a hold of many books and guides that lead me to these places. Many places still hold old ruins such as the Khaibar castle, it’s about 70 km away from the location where the battle took place but you’d be surprised to see so many palm trees in an area where there’s a lot of dormant volcanoes. There was the Asfan Castle near the Hijra Highway for example and many resting oases where the pilgrims used to stop as they head toward Makkah that are still standing and so much more. I’m in awe of these places and I strive to revive them through my pictures. Many of my followers are surprised by them and didn’t even know they existed.”
Moath has been able to document areas little known to people, the only knowledge of these areas might be through historians or their inhabitants. He has visited areas so rare and that hold so much history that it’s a wonder how they’re still standing. Rwawah Beck, some 40 km from Madinah, is a spot that was visited frequently by pilgrims headed to Makkah to perform the annual Haj and that goes back to as early as the rule of Khulafa’a Al-Rashidun. He’s photographed Mount Tathru, White Mountain, volcanic craters such as Al-Wahbah crater, seaside towns such Al-Shaba’n and much more.
“I’m very keen on photographing everything I feel is worth documenting, there will come a time when the next generation might not see what I see, I take pictures at every opportunity I get to educate those who will not be able to share my experiences and the things I see. It’s a form of preservation that would allow the viewer to transport to a time when the picture was taken and through that go back into some other time, it’s a cycle and your imagination can just play its roll.”
The number of historic mosques in Madinah surpass that of any other city in the Kingdom. Moath’s pictures portray the connection of the visitors with the Creator, the humbleness and pure devotion as they pray or simply sit and reflect on the fine creations of the Creator. Some of the mosques are squeezed between alleyways and some are well known such as Thu Al-Qiblatain Mosque, Sultan Abdul Hameed the Second Mosque or aka Al-Anbariyah, Masjid Quba, Mohammed Adeh Mosque, Masjid Al-Fat’h and many more that hold historic significance and were built in different centuries.
Even though Moath has spent all his life in the city, he’s still finding new places as he goes and tours the city. “I feel like the Madinah that I want to see is the old Madinah. I’m still discovering things as I go along the city. There was one place I wish I was able to photograph — the old courtyards of Madinah. They’re a group of houses surrounded by a wall and one gate which closes during the night. The significance of these courtyards is that they were built and designed in old Islamic architecture. It’s been said that the city held over 70 of these courtyards at a time but they have since been removed. It would’ve been a beautiful sight to see.”
Moath’s quest for his search of Madinah is still on-going and he is working on different photography series. Be sure to follow up on more from Moath through his Instagram account “Moaz84” and his snapchat holding the same name as he continues his quest in search for Madinah Al-Munawwarah.
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Twin brothers reunited 74 years after WWII death at Normandy
- The story of how the twins died and were being reunited reflects the daily courage of troops on a mission to save the world from the Nazis and the tenacity of today’s military to ensure that no soldier goes unaccounted for
- "They are finally together again, side by side, where they should be,”
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France: For decades, he was known only as Unknown X-9352 at a World War II American cemetery in Belgium where he was interred.
Today, he has recovered his identity — and was being reunited with his twin brother in Normandy, where the two Navy men died together when their ship shattered on an underwater mine while trying to reach the blood-soaked D-Day beaches.
Julius Heinrich Otto “Henry” Pieper and Ludwig Julius Wilhelm “Louie” Pieper, two 19-year-olds from Esmond, South Dakota, will rest in peace side-by-side later Tuesday at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France, 74 years after their deaths on June 19, 1944.
While Louie’s body was soon found, identified and laid to rest, his brother’s remains were only recovered in 1961 by French salvage divers and not identified until 2017.
They will be the 45th pair of brothers at the cemetery, three of them memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the cemetery. But the Piepers will be the only set of twins among the more than 9,380 graves, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Julius, radioman second class like his brother, was being buried with full military honors at the cemetery, an immaculate field of crosses and stars of David. The site overlooks the English Channel and Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of the Normandy landing beaches of Operation Overlord, the first step in breaching Hitler’s stranglehold on France and Europe. Family members were in attendance.
“They are finally together again, side by side, where they should be,” said their niece, Susan Lawrence, 56, of California.
“They were always together. They were the best of friends,” said Lawrence. “Mom told me a story one time when one of the twins had gotten hurt on the job and the other twin had gotten hurt on the job, same day and almost the same time.”
The story of how the twins died and were being reunited reflects the daily courage of troops on a mission to save the world from the Nazis and the tenacity of today’s military to ensure that no soldier goes unaccounted for.
The Pieper twins, born of German immigrant parents, worked together for Burlington Railroad and enlisted together in the Navy. Both were radio operators and both were on the same unwieldy flat-bottom boat, Landing Ship Tank Number 523 (LST-523), making the Channel crossing from Falmouth, England, to Utah Beach 13 days after the June 6 D-Day landings.
The LST-523 mission was to deliver supplies at the Normandy beachhead and remove the wounded. It never got there.
The vessel struck an underwater mine and sank off the coast. Of the 145 Navy crew members, 117 were found perished. Survivors’ accounts speak of a major storm on the Channel with pitched waves that tossed the boat mercilessly before the explosion that shattered the vessel.
Louie’s body was laid to rest in what now is the Normandy American Cemetery. But the remains of Julius were only recovered in 1961 by French divers who found them in the vessel’s radio room. He was interred as an “Unknown” at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neuville, Belgium, also devoted to the fallen of World War II, in the region that saw the bloody Battle of the Bulge.
Julius’ remains might have stayed among those of 13 other troops from the doomed LST-523 still resting unidentified at the Ardennes cemetery. But in 2017, a US agency that tracks missing combatants using witness accounts and DNA testing identified him.
The Pieper family asked that Louie’s grave in Normandy be relocated to make room for his twin brother at his side.
The last time the United States buried a soldier who fought in World War II was in 2005, at the Ardennes American Cemetery, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.