Then and now: the shifting role of the pilgrims’ guide in Makkah

Time: 22 July, 2020

  • While the services guides provide are as important as ever, the nature of their relationship with pilgrims has, by necessity, changed

MAKKAH: When the pilgrimage season begins, pilgrims’ guides temporarily leave behind their regular jobs and professional titles to serve visitors of all nationalities. It is a solemn and blessed role that many Makkans inherited from their parents and grandparents.

The male and female guides find comfort and pleasure in serving pilgrims, despite the lack of financial reward. They consider their service an honor they are granted each year.

Dr. Talal Qutub, for example, normally works as an internal medicine consultant. He said that he has been blessed to serve pilgrims since early childhood, inheriting the job from his family. They cultivated within him the love of pilgrims and caring for them, from the moment they arrive in Makkah until they depart.

He said that there is a mutual love, appreciation and respect between pilgrims and their guides, and to the guides those feelings are like the oxygen they breathe.

Qutub stated started out in 1973 as an independent guide, before becoming a member of the board of directors of the Institution of Iranian Pilgrims’ Guides and then serving as its president for many years.

“I became the head of the coordinating body of the institutions of the sects’ leaders, during which I was able to complete my studies in medicine and obtain my Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree in Pakistan without interruption to the service of pilgrims,” he said. “Then I joined Saudi Airlines as a doctor in medical services and became general manager of the medical services.

“I was practicing my profession as a doctor and obtained a doctorate in the field of the digestive system and liver while studying Austria, but continued serving pilgrims during my studies there by coming to the Kingdom during the pilgrimage season.”

He said that serving pilgrims is an important part of his life and he could not give it up. It is also a calling that he has passed on to the next generation.

“My son, Dr. Hadi, has inherited the profession from me,” he said. “He is a digestive and liver disease consultant, and a member of the board of directors of the Institution of the Iranian Pilgrims’ Guides.”

Guide Ahmed Halabi, a journalist who specializes in pilgrimage services, said: “Pilgrimage guidance has been linked since its inception in 683 AH/1284 AD to providing special services to the pilgrims of the sacred house of God, including reception, circumambulation and supplications.

“This is what Al-Qasim Bin Youssef Al-Sabti refers to in his book ‘The Beneficiary of Expedition and Expatriation.’ He quotes the traveler Ibn Rashid, who performed pilgrimage in 683 AH/1284 AD: ‘The people of Makkah and their children receive pilgrims and teach them rituals. They train their boys on that, so they teach pilgrims prayers and supplications.’”

Halabi added: “We find many guides who have inherited the profession from their fathers and grandfathers, and are proud of it because it was limited to the judges and scholars in the beginning.”

He said that beautiful words of praise and gratitude increase the sense of pride that guides take in their work. Swiss traveler and historian Jean Louis Burckhardt, for example, said: “The guides are the leaders of the pilgrims during the rituals of pilgrimage and while visiting the holy places in the Prophet’s city.”

In his book ‘The Gentle Pleasures in the Mind of the Pilgrim to the Holiest Place,’ Shakib Arslan wrote: “There are two groups in the honorable Hejaz that visitors of Hijaz need and must have a relationship with: Guides in Makkah and Madinah.”

Lady Evelyn Cobbold, a convert to Islam who in 1933 became the first British Muslim woman to perform Hajj, describes in her book “Pilgrimage to Mecca” the details of her visit.

“Time will not erase from my mind and my memory the scenes that I saw in Mecca and Medina, and the strength of faith, beauty of loyalty, and love of good, for both people and enemies alike, which I felt in the Holy Land,” she wrote.

A number of prominent people have served as guides through the years.

“There are many personalities,” said Halabi. “Perhaps the most prominent of them is Dr. Hamid Al-Harsani, who held the position of Minister of Health during the period from (1961 to 1962). He was not only a guide but a leader of guides.

“There was also the late Sheikh Saleh Kamel. His family worked in guidance and his father worked in the Cabinet Office, but he was keen to attend the pilgrimage season to serve the pilgrims coming from Africa. Their office was located in Al-Shabika.”

Faten Hussein, a reporter and specialist in pilgrimage guidance, said the job of guide is inherited by many Makkans by virtue of their proximity to the Holy Sites, their close relationship with the pilgrims, and knowledge of their languages and culture.

She that many begin their work as guides at a very young age, and that the most important thing that distinguishes them is their moral values. A spirit of sacrifice and unlimited benevolence in serving the needs of pilgrims have instilled in them a unique religious identity built on strong belief. They are religious role models for pilgrims, she added.

However, as times have changed, and the number of pilgrims has increased dramatically, so too has the nature of the relationship between guide and pilgrim. What was once a close, almost familial relationship, is now, by necessity, more businesslike.

“Pilgrimage guidance was initially an individual profession, in the sense that the individual and his family carried the burdens and responsibilities of guidance, from the pilgrims’ arrival in Makkah until they departed,” said Hussein.

“But the increase in the number of pilgrims (created a lot of challenges) in performing the profession as it was based on randomness and personal diligence and the individual’s ability to perform all tasks with the required accuracy. This situation led to the emergence of the guidance institutions in (1982), which are based on organized, collective work to intensify efforts and unify procedures to upgrade the services provided to the pilgrims.

“But this in turn led to a cooling in the relationship between pilgrims and guides because pilgrims were placed in distant residences completely separate from the residences of guides and their families, which formed barriers in communication and human relations and led to the shrinking or fading of the close relationship that used to exist between them in the past.”

In the old days, Hussein said, pilgrims and their families used to spend six months or more in Makkah. Female guides worked in roles such as reception and hospitality, preparing locations, accompanying female pilgrims to the holy places, looking after their valuables, providing health care or religious awareness, and even caring for their children.

“In recent years, female guides have worked in a more advanced way and performed high-quality services for female pilgrims,” she said. “Cultural- and religious-awareness meetings are provided for female pilgrims, the content of which is determined according to the needs of the targeted groups. Female guides are also trained in the art of dealing with female pilgrims, the art of speech, and in first aid and other courses.”

Sami Al-Muabber, the chief of Russeifa neighborhood in Makkah, recalled the relationship that developed between guides and pilgrims in years gone by, from their arrival on ships until their departure after spending six or seven months among Makkans. He compared the moment of parting with saying farewell to close family members.

He also highlighted the important role played by the women of Makkah, even many years ago, who went to extraordinary lengths to provide first-class hospitality, from preparing delicious meals to sewing clothes.

Al-Muabber said that pilgrims in the past would spend more time in Makkah and Madinah than in their home countries. As a result, they learned Arabic and taught others their mother tongues. This had a social impact on the way of life of Makkans, who treated the pilgrims as part of their families and essential partners in the social life of the city.

Pilgrims used to arrive at the beginning of the month of Rajab by “Babur” (ship), he added, and stay until Safar, seven months later, which gave plenty of time for them to integrate with Makkans. Pilgrims lived in the homes of their guides. The owner would vacate most of the house, keeping only a room on the roof for himself and his family, with a space in front of it.

The joy of the pilgrims’ arrival was similar to the arrival of Eid, said Al-Muabber. A great feast, called hospitality, was laid on for them, to which all the people of the neighborhood were invited. He added that Makkans would compete with each other to offer hospitality to pilgrims, who would stay, eat and drink as guests of God.

Makkan women shared the same divine rewards as male guides, he said, because they took care of their visitors, accompanied female pilgrims to textile stores and bought them what they needed, and sewed their clothes. Female pilgrims would also buy eyeliners, incense and framed pictures of Makkah and Madinah. Makkan women used to help female pilgrims choose their clothes and prayer mat. Such was the closeness of the relationship that developed over many months between pilgrim and guide, saying goodbye was painful.

“It was like saying goodbye to a family member,” said Al-Muabber. The visitors, he added, became part of the family, sharing moments of happiness and sadness.

Nowadays, the high number of pilgrims and the ways in which the wider world has changed mean that they do not get to know the Makkans in such a deep and meaningful way. Some pilgrims now arrive on the Day of Arafah and leave soon after. They no longer have the opportunity to share with the people of Makkah the beauty of meeting and getting to know each other, or create memories together that will last a lifetime.

Al-Muabber pointed out that at the beginning of the reign of King Saud the number of pilgrims was about 200,000; now there more than two million each year, and they spend much less time in Saudi Arabia. With such sweeping changes, the days when pilgrims and locals could meet, spend time together and form deep bonds that lasted a lifetime are long gone.

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home

Saudi Arabia repatriates 296 stranded Filipinos

Time: 30 April, 2020

Saudi Arabia also earlier repatriated around 227 Saudi nationals from Japan as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus global outbreak. (File/AFP)
  • Residents availed of the Awda (return) initiative by registering in the Kingdom’s Absher platform.

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has repatriated 296 Filipino passengers to Manila as part of the Kingdom’s initiative to return residents and tourists back to their countries due to coronavirus, state news agency SPA reported.
Residents availed of the Awda (return) initiative by registering in the Kingdom’s Absher platform.
Saudi Arabia also earlier repatriated around 227 Saudi nationals from Japan as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus global outbreak.

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home

Islamabad lauds Saudi’s decision to cancel repeat Umrah fees

10/09/19

Pakistani pilgrims breeze through immigration counters at Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz International Airport in Madinah as part of the “Makkah Route” initiative on July 5, 2019. (SPA)

Pakistanis top list of nationalities to perform Umrah this year
Move will facilitate pilgrims traveling from the country, official says
ISLAMABAD: The spokesman for Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to do away with charges for any Pakistani seeking to perform Umrah more than once.
Speaking to Arab News on Tuesday, Imran Siddiqui also thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for issuing a royal decree to restructure Hajj, visit, and transit visas.
“Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had requested Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to look into the matter [following which the] Minister of Religious Affairs, Noor ul Haq Qadri, had also discussed the matter with his Saudi counterpart during Hajj this year,” Siddiqui told Arab News.
According to the Saudi minister for Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Mohammad Salih Bentin, the royal decree is part of the leadership’s initiative “to facilitate the arrival of Muslims from all over the world for Hajj and Umrah.”
Siddiqui said that the move would facilitate several Pakistani nationals who top the list of pilgrims performing Umrah and would increase the “number of Pakistani pilgrims who want to go for the pilgrimage.”
“This year alone, more than 1.6 million Pakistanis performed Umrah,” he said.
Dr. Bentin added that the initiative reflects the Kingdom’s readiness to receive the increasing number of pilgrims which is apparent from the investments in huge infrastructure projects and the development of services in Makkah and Madinah.
The decree supports efforts to achieve one of the most important objectives of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, which hopes to facilitate 30 million Umrah pilgrims by then.

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home

Health Ministry treats 649,690 Hajj pilgrims

Time: August 24, 2019  

1 / 4
The number of participants in serving pilgrims this year reached 30,000 employees of the Ministry of Health. (SPA)
  • For the first time this year, the ministry used robotic technology for medical consultations, which gave hospitals in Mina remote access to consultants in micro specialties

RIYADH: The Ministry of Health has revealed specialized services provided by its hospitals and health centers in Makkah, Madinah and holy sites for pilgrims during Hajj.
The ministry said that the number of pilgrims who received treatment in hospitals and health centers reached 649,690.
The number of participants in serving pilgrims this year reached 30,000 employees of the Ministry of Health, while 25 hospitals were prepared in Makkah and Madinah, with a total capacity of 5,000 beds.
For the first time this year, the ministry used robotic technology for medical consultations, which gave hospitals in Mina remote access to consultants in micro specialties.

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home

ru

Saudi Arabia praised for successful Hajj season

Time: August 13, 2019  

The General Authority for Statistics said that the number of male pilgrims who performed Hajj this year reached 1,385,234, while the number of female pilgrims was 1,104,172. (SPA)
  • Chechnya President Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov extended his congratulations to the king and crown prince on Eid Al-Adha

MINA: King Salman received a phone call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulating him on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha, the Saudi Press Agency reported. Erdogan also lauded the success of Saudia Arabia’s Hajj plans, praising the efforts under the king’s leadership to facilitate the annual pilgrimage for millions of Muslims.
King Salman said the Kingdom would do everything it could so that pilgrims could perform their rituals with ease, security and safety.
Chechnya President Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov also extended his congratulations to the king and crown prince on Eid Al-Adha.
He praised Saudi Arabia for its achievements and services at the holy sites of Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina, stressing that these efforts were appreciated and welcomed by all Muslims.
He said the success of the Hajj was a message to anyone doubting the Kingdom’s leading role in the service of the Two Holy Mosques, calling on all Muslims to support Saudi Arabia in the challenges it faced.
The secretary-general of the Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Organization, Dr. Saleh bin Hamad Al-Tuwaijri, also congratulated King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal on the success of this year’s Hajj season.
Al-Tuwaijri praised the Kingdom’s massive development projects, which are aimed at serving pilgrims and visitors to the Two Holy Mosques.
Egypt’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Omar Marwan expressed his appreciation for the king and crown prince’s services to Hajj. He said that the good planning and wealth of experience among Saudi authorities and agencies meant that pilgrims were able to move between sites smoothly, as well as perform their Hajj rituals with ease.
The chairman of the African Scholars Forum, Sheikh Mohammed Alhafiz Alnahawi, remarked on the development of services provided to pilgrims in Makkah, the holy sites and Madinah.

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home

ru

First group of Tunisian pilgrims arrive via Makkah Route initiative

25/07/19

The first Makkah Route initiative’s Hajj flight from Tunisia arrived at Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz International Airport in Madinah, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

The pilgrims who benefited from the initiative lauded efforts to facilitate their travel and enable them to perform their duties with ease and comfort.
(Photo courtesy: SPA)

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home

Pilgrims with special needs treated to a memorable Umrah trip under Saudi ministry’s Ramadan initiative

Time: May 26, 2019  

1 / 8
Special Umrah trip for special needs pilgrims. (Supplied photo)
  • Umrah trip held as part of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s “Sadiq Almutamir (Friend of the Pilgrim)” initiative

JEDDAH: Several Muslims with special needs have benefited from a special Umrah pilgrimage organized by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah on the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan.

According to statement from the ministry, the Umrah trip, was held on the 17th of Ramadan  (May 22) under the “Sadiq Almutamir (Friend of the Pilgrim)” initiative in partnership with Sawt Alasm association in Jeddah.

A busload of 20 people with special needs were accompanied by 12 volunteers of Sadiq Almutamir, including sign language interpreters for the deaf pilgrims.

The first stop was at Kuday area in Makkah, where pilgrims received the special gifts of Sadiq Almutamir, supported by the Establishment of Motawifs of South East Asian Pilgrims. Next was their arrival at the Grand Mosque, wherein the pilgrims performed Umrah, enjoyed Iftar meals, and received souvenirs from Haji & Mu’tamer’s Gift Association.

Volunteers assisted the pilgrims by communicating with them, providing instructions and directions in addition to sharing their feelings with the support of the sign language interpreters.

Sadiq Almutamir also accompanied pilgrims during the performance of Umrah, providing wheelchairs for the elderly, sharing breakfast, and learning about their impressions of performing Umrah for their first time.

Sadiq Almutamir is one of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s initiatives in Makkah’s Cultural Forum. It focuses on promoting the culture of giving and cooperation between the Saudi youth as well as elevating the volunteering services provided to Umrah pilgrims in order to enrich their experiences. It also provides optional tours to visit attractions, monuments, and places contribute to enriching experiences of Mutamirs and immortalizing beautiful memories in the Kingdom.

Launched late last year, the initiative aims to develop the spirit of volunteerism among Muslims and to invest in the youth by engaging young men and women in service and social responsibility.

“It focuses as well on improving the efficiency level of services provided to pilgrims, promoting the culture of volunteering, helping elderly and special needs’ people to perform Umrah rituals, and finally contributing to the realization of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 of reaching 1 million volunteers annually,” ministry statement said.

The trip was held in cooperation with the Western Fleet Transport, in coordination with the undersecretary of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah for pilgrims’ transportation affairs and Haji & Mu’tamer’s Gift Association.

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home

ru

Saudis volunteer to aid Makkah pilgrims during Ramadan

Time: May 21, 2019

1 / 5
Around 1,400 doctors and medical students were volunteering, hoping to make a difference and to serve their country. (SPA)
  • 1,400 doctors and medical students are volunteering

MAKKAH: Saudis are volunteering in Makkah to help pilgrims, dealing with their health issues and any other requirements they may have so their Umrah can be performed with ease.
Doctors, teachers, engineers and government employees are among those giving their time and energy during the holy month of Ramadan to help the millions of Muslims who are in Makkah.
The head of Nabad, a volunteer group, said that medical professionals and other specialists were focusing on nationals and residents through events in malls, hospitals and health centers.
“Nabad has contributed to promoting knowledge among members of civil society and focused on serving widows, divorcees, low-income people, people with special needs and the elderly through events carried out in conjunction with government bodies,” Dr. Yasser Al-Sharif told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHTS

1,400 doctors and medical students are volunteering.

Volunteer groups are promoting knowledge among members of civil society.

Many volunteer activities are focused on serving widows, divorcees and low-income people.

He added that 1,400 doctors and medical students were volunteering, hoping to make a difference and to serve their country.
Al-Sharif said the events were aimed at raising awareness about several programs, including one about health empowerment ambassadors, for guests of the Grand Mosque. Pilgrims are provided with information upon arrival at the airport in different languages, he said.
Rania Shodari is part of a volunteer program for pilgrims, offering them gifts and introducing them to Makkah landmarks, and described the experience as special.
“Volunteering should come from the heart and not be a means to show off,” she told Arab News. “We focus on bringing smiles to pilgrims’ faces and intensifying efforts to reflect real Saudi hospitality, from the moment they arrive until their departure.

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home

ru

Hajj and Umrah e-visas to be issued in minutes

12/05/19

Muslim pilgrims go through passport control upon their arrival at Jeddah airport on July 14,2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca. – The Hajj, the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in the lifetime of every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. (Photo by Amer HILABI / AFP)
The electronic platform will include new services that will give non-Saudis access to the e-portal, where they can review service packages, choose a package and apply for visas electronically. (AFP/ File photo)
  • New service to boost number of pilgrims, says official
  • e-portal will allow pilgrims to review service packages and apply for visas electronically

RIYADH: Electronic visas for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims will be issued within minutes for various Hajj/Umrah campaigns and companies under plans by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

“Pilgrims who are coming from outside the Kingdom are tied to Hajj and Umrah service-providing companies and agents in order to obtain a visa. The electronic visas will be issued to these entities who will be licensed to facilitate Hajj and Umrah in these countries,” Abdulrahman Shams, an adviser to the minister of Hajj and Umrah and general supervisor of Hajj and Umrah’s electronic platform, said on MBC.

Shams said the electronic platform will include new services that will give non-Saudis access to the e-portal, where they can review service packages, choose a package and apply for visas electronically.

“We are working closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior to issue visas electronically, within minutes of completing the required forms, and without the need for passports to go through embassies,” he said.

The move will help encourage greater numbers of pilgrims, he added. Saudi Arabia has issued over 4.33 million Umrah visas this year. The ministry’s move helps facilitate pilgrims’ journeys and minimizes pre-planning. Under Vision 2030, the Kingdom hopes to attract more than 30 million Umrah pilgrims and provide them with top-class services.

In January, the ministry updated its online portal to support foreign pilgrims. Almost 1.1 million Muslims used the Maqam online portal in its trial phase last year, allowing them to choose between more than 30 companies providing travel and accommodations for trips to Makkah and Madinah.

The ministry has been discussing incorporating e-services since November 2018.

Abdulaziz Al-Wazzan, the deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah, said the initiative aims to make visas more accessible to pilgrims, while also contributing to an increase in pilgrim numbers.

This article was first published in  Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News

Saudi Hajj ministry updates online portal for foreign pilgrims

Time: January 31, 2019

Almost 1.1 million Muslims used the Maqam portal in its trial phase last year. (Salman Al-Marzouki/AN photo)
  • The portal allows pilgrims to apply and compare services digitally before making their trip

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah launched a package of updates for their Maqam e-portal on Thursday, in a move to simplify pilgrimages for Muslim’s traveling from outside the Kingdom.

The Maqam portal is an online platform, designed so that Muslims from around the world can apply for an Umrah package digitally. It also compares the prices of competing service providers, checks the status of flights and bookings, and makes electronic visa applications, without the need to travel to an embassy.

It is aimed especially at Muslims traveling from non-Muslim countries, where access to organizations and information for making pilgrimages can be harder to access.

Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Abdul-Fattah bin Sulaiman Mushat said that the updates would simplify pilgrimages for the 30 million people visiting the Kingdom every year.

The site was updated by the Hajj ministry. (Supplied)

Almost 1.1 million Muslims used the Maqam portal in its trial phase last year, allowing them to choose between over thirty companies providing travel, accommodation and other necessities for the respective trips to Makkah and Madinah.

As well as making life easier for the pilgrims themselves, Maqam has also been a boost for local companies, allowing them to directly target pilgrims around the world with special offers and services tailored to their needs.

Maqam provides e-services in Arabic, English and French, and can be visited at: https://eservices.haj.gov.sa/eservices3

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home

ru