Madinah calling: Exploring the Prophet’s city

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Updated 24 June 2015
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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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Hot air balloons take flight over Austria for world championship

Updated 20 August 2018
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Hot air balloons take flight over Austria for world championship

  • Around 100 teams from more than 38 countries are taking part in the biennial event
  • Competitive ballooning test pilots’ skills in distance, speed and navigational precision

GROSS-SIEGHARTS, Austria: The northern Austrian sky was filled with colorful hot air balloons early on Monday morning as the sport’s world championship sailed into view.
Around 100 teams from more than 38 countries are taking part in the biennial event, which is being held in Gross-Siegharts near the Czech border.
Competitive ballooning test pilots’ skills in distance, speed and navigational precision, according to the World Air Sports Federation that oversees the sport.
Each flight is scheduled for 5am (0300 GMT) and 5pm when light winds usually allow for safer take off and landings. The event runs until Friday.