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The journey commenced with undertaking the minor pilgrimage (umrah) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Very little equates to the spiritual enrichment gained from umrah. Worshippers dressed in ceremonial plain white cloth visiting Islam’s holiest mosque, the Kaba, performing rituals of spiritual cleansing as performed by Prophet Abraham and taught by the last and final Prophet of God, Muhammad (peace be upon them both). Tour members spent valuable moments connecting with the Almighty and reconciling their own personal affairs with the Sublime.

The City of Light – Medina – the Prophet’s city, where his mosque and grave are located was the second stop of the journey. Being present at the very place where a profound message flourished left an indelible mark on all. Several museums and exhibitions were visited in both historical cities including Assalaamu-alayka Ayyuhan-Nabiy (The Prophet’s Project), the Holy Mosques, Ninety-Nine Names of God, Dar Al-Madinah, etc. The group also visited the Library and Museum within the Prophet’s Mosque in Medinah, the Quran printing complex as well as the historical sites of Arafat, Mina, Quba, and Qiblatain. The most physically demanding event of the stay in Mecca was climbing the 600 steps of the Mount of Light to reach the Cave of Hira where the Prophet first received Divine revelation from the Archangel Gabriel.

After renewing spiritual and emotional connections at Islam’s holiest of places, the tour then moved on to the city of Amman in Jordan. It was here that the group visited two separate camps of Syrian refugees. They personally assisted with HAIA’s Winter Aid Appeal handing out gas cookers, blankets and food packs to more than one hundred Syrian families. The provisions were estimated to last about three weeks in the cold winter. Witnessing first-hand the dire plight of refugees was gut-wrenching. Jordan currently has more than 600,000 Syrian refugees – approximately 80 percent live in urban areas in the north, while the remaining 20 percent live in refugee camps. The group also handed out food and clothing vouchers from monies they personally collected beforehand to two separate groups of orphans. They also attended an inspiring awards ceremony at an Orphan Centre, met with the board of the Conservation of the Holy Quran Society in Amman as well as the Australian Ambassador, Ms Heidi Venamore, and visited historical ruins at Jerash, Um Qais, Ajloun and others. At least two important lessons were reiterated to participants: the need to care for and serve others and the essential requirement to study the Noble Quran.

From Amman the group travelled to Istanbul, the city of the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul was equally rich in history and seemed to amalgamate the meeting of East and West. The group’s first stop was to pray at the famous Fatih mosque, followed by Sultan Ahmet, Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari and other significant places. The tour group was fortunate to be hosted by the Deputy-Mufti of Istanbul, Dr Sabri Demir on a day-long tour of the beautiful city. Other visits included a breath-taking ferry ride on the Bosphorus River, shopping at the Grand Bazaar and eating delicious beans outside the Suleimaniyeh mosque. The group also attended a workshop on managing public opinion by Dr Nasir Al-Mani` from Anadolu Leadership and Management Training. Other interesting highlights included a soccer match on a cold-winter’s night and a scrub-down in a traditional hamam (bath).

From Istanbul the tour moved to Dubai where Human Appeal International has its headquarters. The tour group was graciously hosted by its secretary-general His Excellency, Salem bin Ahmad Abdulrahman Al-Nuaimi. The group visited the HAI offices in Ajman where presentations about its orphan program and various other humanitarian projects were observed. The group also participated in a workshop on leadership and did some site-seeing in Dubai.

The overwhelming feedback from participants was “a trip of a life time,” one that they would never forget. Special acknowledgment goes to A&H Travel for supporting the 2016 tour.

Tour members: Sydney (Mohamed Sharawy, Muhammad El-Hajje, Firas Hammoudi, Ahmed Rafik, Ali Darwich, Omar Afyouni, Ahmad Al-Jamal, Useid Rafiq), Melbourne (Ali Abou-Zeid, Ahmed Souki, Abdullah Sheriffdeen, Amet Balla, Bilal Barakat), Adelaide (Abdulsalam Juma, Yahya Ahmed). Group Leaders: Bashar Al-Jamal, Dr Zac Matthews.

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