Madinah calling: Exploring the Prophet’s city

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Updated 24 June 2015

Madinah calling: Exploring the Prophet’s city

The holy city of Madinah Al-Munawwarah has its very special place in history. It is where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) migrated to and was welcomed with open arms by the inhabitants of the city. Hundreds of years after the prophet’s migration the city is still as welcoming to everyone as it has ever been. Families that are originally from the beautiful city tell of family gatherings, neighborhood festivities, visits to historic sites and so much more.
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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High-end rebrand makes life sweet for Japan’s ‘ice farmers’

Updated 5 min 25 sec ago

High-end rebrand makes life sweet for Japan’s ‘ice farmers’

  • Reinventing natural-made ice as a high-end artisanal product has helped revive the ice-farming trade
  • The blocks are sold to some of Tokyo’s high-end shaved ice shops as well as department stores

NIKKO, Japan: In a mountainous area north of Tokyo, a priest blows a conch shell as Yuichiro Yamamoto bows and thanks the nature gods for this year’s “good harvest”: natural ice.
Yamamoto is one of Japan’s few remaining “ice farmers,” eschewing the ease of refrigeration for open-air pools to create a product that is sold to high-end shaved ice shops in trendy Tokyo districts.
His trade had all but disappeared in recent decades, and the shaved ice or kakigori that is popular throughout Japan in summer had been produced with cheap machine-made ice.
But reinventing natural-made ice as a high-end artisanal product has helped revive the sector and save his firm.
“When I started making natural ice, I wondered how I should market it. I thought I needed to transform kakigori,” Yamamoto says at his ice-making field in the town of Nikko, north of Tokyo.
Yamamoto took over a traditional ice-making business 13 years ago in Nikko, where he also runs a leisure park.
At the time, shaved ice cost just ¥200 ($2) in the local area and Yamamoto, who was fascinated by traditional ice-making, knew he couldn’t make ends meet.
“My predecessor used to sell ice at the same price as the fridge-made one, which can be manufactured easily anytime throughout the year,” the 68-year-old says.
The situation made it “impossible” to compete he explains, as producing natural ice is labor intensive.
Instead he decided to transform cheap kakigori into a luxury dessert, made with his natural ice and high-grade fruit puree rather than artificially flavored syrup.
After months of research, he began producing his own small batches of artisanal kakigori.
“I put the price tag at ¥800 for a bowl of kakigori. I also priced the ice at ¥9,000 per case, which is six times more than my predecessor,” he says.
At first, there were days he threw away tons of ice because he could not find clients.
But one day buyers from the prestigious Mitsukoshi department store discovered his product, and began stocking it, turning around his fortunes.
Kakigori dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185) when aristocratic court culture flourished in the then-capital of Kyoto.
It was a rare delicacy reserved for the rich, with the ice naturally made and stored in mountainside holes covered with silver sheets.
It was only after 1883, when the first ice-making factory was built in Tokyo, that ordinary people could taste the dessert.
With the development of ice-making machines, the number of traditional ice makers dropped to fewer than 10 nationwide.
The story is one familiar to many traditional Japanese crafts and foodstuffs — with expensive and labor-intensive products losing ground as cheaper, machine-driven versions become available.
And making ice naturally is a grueling task.
The season begins in the autumn when workers prepare a swimming-pool-like pit by cultivating the soil and pouring in spring water.
Thin frozen initial layers are scraped away along with dirt and fallen leaves.
The ice-making begins in earnest in the winter, when water is poured in to freeze solid, but it must be carefully protected. Producers regularly scrape off snow that can slow the freezing process.
“I once spent 16 hours non-stop removing snow,” Yamamoto recalls.
And rain too can ruin the product, causing cracks that mean the whole batch has to be discarded.
“I check the weather forecast 10 times a day,” Yamamoto laughs.
Once the ice is 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) thick, which takes at least two weeks, workers begin cutting out rectangular blocks.
Each block, which weighs about 40 kilograms (88 pounds), is glided into an ice room filled with sawdust on a long bamboo slide.
The blocks are sold to some of Tokyo’s high-end shaved ice shops as well as department stores.
In the Yanaka district, more than 1,000 people queue up every day for a taste of kakigori made with natural ice produced by another ice-maker from Nikko.
Owner Koji Morinishi says the naturally made ice has a texture that is different from machine-made products.
“It feels very different when you shave it. It’s harder because it’s frozen over a long period of time,” explains Morinishi.
“It’s easier to shave really thin if the ice is hard. If not hard, it dissolves too quickly.”
Morinishi himself struggled when he first opened the kakigori shop, but has gradually built a cult following for his desserts topped with purees of mango, watermelon, peach or other fruit.
And Yamamoto’s firm has seen demand soar — he now harvests 160 tons a year and knows two new producers who have entered the market.
He says: “This business has become attractive and the ice makers are all busy.”