Saturday, February 15, 2020

Rome...In My Rida


Tame sagla safar karo - to tamne ganimat malse

~Rasul Allah AS Hadees

I woke up to the sound of azan on my phone, just in time for fajr namaz. It took me a second to realize where I was. It was unfamiliar, but only for a moment while I realized where I was. This, in turn, brought out the biggest smile on my face.

Rome. I had just awoken to the sounds of the azan in Rome. Nanima and I had arrived at Fiumicino airport last night. Weary from all the traveling we quickly set up alarms and crashed into the soft hotel beds.

It was predawn and dark outside but I could already hear the sounds of birds chirping outside the window. It was just wonderful. Alhamdulillah.

Our cab was ready and waiting just in time as we finished our delicious cappuccinos at the hotel buffets. It was clear that the Romans loved their food. Yogurt, cereal, fresh-baked croissants with Nutella and cheese, fresh fruit juices, whole fruits, fresh produce, and the best coffee in Rome. But it was time to go.

“Buongiorno” I greeted our cab driver.

His smile broadened as he replied back "Ciao" and welcomed us on the journey. And just like that, we were off on our adventures for the day in the Eternal City: Rome.

Founded in 753 BC, Rome is the oldest continuously occupied city in Europe. It is modern and traditional at the same time. A city that has withstood the pressures of time. The city’s history is as convoluted as its streets with myths and legends in the bountiful. From the Colosseo (Colosseum) to Vatican City, the city’s treasures are breathtaking.

It made sense then to start with the grandest of them all. The Colosseo. Our driver dropped us off right at the Arch of Constantine. We soon found our tour group and our beautiful tour guide started our detailed tour. Needless to say, the sheer size and capacity of this structure are amazing. Within 10 mins of our entering, we heard an announcement declaring they had to close further entries at this time as the Colosseo was at full capacity with 30,000 tourists inside. Phew! I could write a whole book about the magnificence and detailing that made this structure an architectural and modern wonder. We will leave that for another time.

We milled around other tourists trying to pay attention to every word our Guide, Barbara, said. We stopped at several locations to take pictures. At one such stop, inside the Amphitheatre, our Ridas receive compliments from other ladies. “Grazie!” I reply. The conversation veers on to where we are from and how many colors can you wear. We smile and answer questions while more people join in and want to know where we got them or did we make them ourselves.

“Wait, these are handmade and have multiple designs and colors?”
“Are you Muslims?”
“Not all Muslims wear black?”
“Did you make this yourself?”
“No, but my aunt did!”

We could see it on their faces that minds were blowing everywhere.

It was time to keep moving. We thanked them for their questions and wished them well.

After Colosseo, it was time to visit Palatine Hill which is where the residential and administrative capital of the Roman Empire was. The kings of yonder had their Royal Palaces, the offices as well as their temples - all in one giant piece of land, constructed time and again over the centuries. Rome was not built in a day. Like literally.

“Allora! The road that you are walking on in Palatine Hills," Barbara said, “are as old as the city itself is. You are walking on the 2000-year-old roads.”


Spring is a beautiful time to visit just about everywhere but with flowers blooming across Europe, we could not have picked a better time to visit! We did consciously avoid Rome during the Easter weekend as we expected crowds to descent to see the Pope and celebrate. Rome remains crowded almost all year round. At least we had good weather on our side!

After our 3-hour long tour of Colosseum and mini conversations with people from all around the world, we are now tired and hungry. But zuhr time was also important. And Nanima tired. What to do?

Inspired by some beautiful purple blossoms we headed away from the milling crowds. It looked really difficult to find a quiet area to pray namaz in. Should we give up? Maybe we can do namaz after we got back to our hotel at night? Should we go back now? No. We didn't have enough time.

"Tame azam karo to bharoso Khuda par rakho" Burhanuddin Moula's voice rang in my head.

We kept walking and after what seems like a long time we suddenly landed at a clear, shaded and secluded area. We had done wudu with zuhr niyat just a few minutes earlier so the timing was just perfect! Shukar Alhamdulillah.

After a few extra minutes of rest and enjoying the calm in the midst of the chaos it was time to go. We were still hungry!

At this point, we are farther away than my original exit plan. This means the restaurant I wanted to eat lunch at was a bit of a distance. Not good.

Google to the rescue! A quick Google search for “Halal near me” showed nothing nearby. Feeling disheartened, we started walking towards our next foot stop, Piazza Venezia (Or as the locals call it, the Wedding Cake building).

We started passing through a tiny street with a bunch of eateries. I started looking at the signs, hoping to find vegetarian food at the least. Do bear in my mind that I had the added complexity to this. My Nanima absolutely hates cheese. And here I am in Italy looking for food!

We kept walking. I’m a little disheartened so far because most menus I’ve seen so far all contain meat or cheese. We keep walking along and my eyes stop and heart skips a beat as I see the picture of Kabatullah in the corner of this small hole-in-the-wall tiny restaurant. It barely had any space.

I prayed salawaat a few times, gathered some courage and asked the white lady at the counter, “Is the food here halal?”
Before she could answer, a gentleman stepped up, smiled and said,

The tiny restaurant belonged to a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant who had lived in Italy for 20+ years. The simple meal of “Pollo e Patate” was very satisfying and everything we needed to nourish ourselves. While eating we listened to his story of struggles about his family and his simple life here. His wife had passed and he was raising his sons on his own.

The potatoes while being simple were common and wholesome. Just like our lives, I pondered. We all have challenges in shapes that never look like any other but as fellow humans and travelers of this world, we understand the taste of the same and how to spice them up. We thanked him from the bottom of our hearts, packed the leftovers and headed onwards to the Piazza Venezia.

The next part of the day is a walking street tour. We walked along, took pictures, stopped for gelato while we passed some gorgeous sites like the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva with the beautiful blue ceiling and the legendary Pantheon.

Towards late afternoon, we were very tired but again we found ourselves in very busy surroundings with no place to rest. This time we just caught a taxi and headed straight to Villa Borghese. It is the largest public park in Rome featuring buildings, museums, plenty of fountains and such. No better place to rest than this!

We refilled our reusable bottles at the park. The abundance of fountains and drinking water around Rome makes it so much more attractive to me. Romans love their water. Clean, clear, drinking water is free and accessible to all.

The nasone, the “large nose” shaped drinking fountains across Rome offers free drinking water to Romans and visitors alike. You will find drinking water all across Europe, or so I hear.

As the evening sets in, the weather is now considerably cooler. The chirping of the birds as they return to their nests is everywhere. The greenery in the middle of a hustling, bustling city is what helps all of us breathe a bit better.

There is just enough time to make it back to our hotel room after picking up my dinner - Pizza at the famous Pizzarum di Gabriele Bonci.

Even as I ask her to please cut for me an assortment of vegetarian pizzas, I was smiling widely knowing that I will not need to share my pizza tonight. Nanima doesn’t like pizza either! And she loves her Chicken and Potatoes. We are both very happy!

As I got into my hotel-bound taxi for the evening, hot pizza on my lap, cool water filled to the brim in my bottles, a nice hot Italian coffee, the cool evening breeze, the chatty Italian driver (who honestly, I have no idea what he was saying - but it looked like he was talking about his kids) I felt happy and humbled.

Happy because I was finally living my dream of traveling to locations one only ever looks at in pictures. Eating what I enjoyed eating. Doing what I liked doing. Humbled because Allah willing I was now able to do it, all while holding on strongly to my eemaan.

All of this reminded me of Rasul Allah (SAW)’s hadees, “Travel; you will benefit from it”. While I felt excited about this journey, I am filled with gratitude when I am reminded of the kind people I met along the way today. People who will hopefully remember me as someone kind and comforting when they think of Muslims the next time. Hopefully.

Back in the hotel room, after namaz and the delicious pizza, I checked my to-do list for tomorrow. Besides being on time for the Tour to the Vatican City and Museums and coins for the Trevi Fountain, We must remember to be more patient and kind because even in the Eternal City, the most valuable treasure is a heart filled with love.

I set my alarm for fajr namaz and drift off to sleep dreaming about all the beautiful places I am yet to visit. Inshallah!



Inspired by the divine and insightful wasiyat of Amirul Mumineen Ali ibn Abi Talib for his beloved son Imam Hasan He states Aa cheez taraf takhallaus karo - Tamara jaan ne olkho, ehna ayub ne door karo