Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Launch of Hajj Awareness Week at House of Lords

Launch of National Hajj Awareness
Week at House of Lords

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham, Patron of the Association of British Hujjaj (ABH) launched the National Hajj Awareness Week at the House of Lords on Wednesday, the 21 October 2008. While launching the Hajj Awareness Week, Lord Ahmed mentioned some of the achievements of the ABH: 25,000 British Muslims go for Hajj every year and many thousands do Umrah and there was a need for British Muslims facilities not only consular advice but more important health advice and other kind of advice which is now available in Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat and particularly in Makkah.

The purpose of this national event was to raise awareness of the Health & Safety issues amongst the 25000 prospective British Hajj & Umrah pilgrims who will start travelling from next week to join over 2 million other pilgrims in Makkah to perform Hajj. Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, Steve McCabe MP, Roger Godsiff MP, Hazza Al Hasher from Saudi Embassy (London) and officials from various Government departments were present to support this event.

The British Pilgrims are at greater risk of accidents and contracting infectious diseases such as meningitis, hepatitis, influenza etc. “It is particularly important that pilgrims must be aware of the precautionary measures towards the recent Swine flu threat and that they must get vaccinated before their departure to Saudi”, said Lord Ahmed of Rotherham.

I had the opportunity to interview Lord Ahmed, the patron of the Association of British Hujjaj. Speaking about the importance of launching this event, Lord Ahmed said, “Every year the ABH launches the Hajj Awareness Week. It is important that we raise awareness because hundreds and thousands Muslims from the United Kingdom go for Hajj and Umrah every year 25, 000 of them for Hajj. We are unique in the sense that Government provides facilities in Makkah, Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafah through the Hajj Delegation which was established ten years ago.”

Lord Ahmed also congratulated the efforts of the Saudi Government saying, “the Saudi Government has been very kind in supporting this effort too.”

Lord Ahmed advised to take Meningitis and Swine Flu jab. “Sometime health and safety issues are not the priority of our community; we want to make sure that people are aware that Meningitis is a killer and people should be protected against the Meningitis jab. Secondly, Swine Flu is also a killer now and the government expects thousands of people are contracting it, so therefore it is important that people have a flu jab against that,.” advised Lord Ahmed.

Lord Ahmed also mentioned about fraud tour operators. “There are great majority of the tour operators they provide an excellent service and they do very hard work; but occasionally we get total fraud like last year in East London a Bengali gentleman who committed a fraud; he called himself a Kibla Hajj Services. That man, rightly so, Thank God, he was sentenced for six years. And I hope that the money he transferred to Bangladesh should be returned. 350 people were stunned with 2500 pounds per head. This is a lot of money and these are poor people and they had lost their passports. They saved the money for their life time. Unfortunately these types of things happened. And that should not be allowed.”

Lord Ahmed advised people to be vigilant and also to obtain a receipt from tour operators. “People need to be vigilant and they should report this matter if this happens to the police and also to the Trading Standard offices. But the most important thing is we know some people do not use credit cards or cheque books. Any money you give you must obtain a receipt from the tour operators.”

Lord Ahmed also mentioned that the people should make sure that these tour operators are ATOL registered, they should have some certification from the BIS and the Aviation Authority. “They should have government approval as well as a company which is responsible for looking after their things,” said Lord Ahmed.

Lord Ahmed also said that cheapest is not necessarily the best. “I think people should look at this year packages which are being offered. Cheapest is not necessarily the best. We know every body should go for cost effective but they should go for quality,” advised Lord Ahmed.

Another aspect which Lord Ahmed emphasized is about the religiosity of Hajj itself. “Hajj does not mean suffering; it does not mean hardship, it means worship. This is not an option, this is not going for holiday, this is part of Islam and people should be looking for the fulfilment of that spirituality,” mentioned Lord Ahmed.

Lord Ahmed would like to see more mosques to hold seminars and training programme so people should be mentally prepared. “We need to make sure that we should have host these events in regions. Next Sunday, in Midland, they are launching this event and then in Yorkshire and Scotland. So people become more aware. We would like more mosques to hold seminars and training programmes so people should be mentally prepared,” said Lord Ahmed.

Officials from Business, Innovation & Skills Department (BIS) and Metropolitan police also highlighted the issue of exploitation of the pilgrims by some tour operators. Members of Parliament Steve McCabe and Roger Godsiff commended the hard work of the ABH, UK towards the welfare and well being of the pilgrims. They strongly urged the British Muslim community that they should be aware of the illegal activities of some unscrupulous and rogue Hajj tour operators who are causing tremendous hardship and difficulties to the British Hajj & Umrah pilgrims and they also expressed their full support to ensure that the Hajj & Umrah travel industry is regulated.

“The Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (A.B.H) the National Hajj specific organisation is organising high profile publicity campaign during this week through press and electronic media, and also organising seminars and educational training programs to raise awareness of pre-travel Health & Safety issues amongst prospective Hajj pilgrims to prevent such tragic incidents in future”, said Khalid Pervez, General Secretary of the Association of British Hujjaj.

Recent Expansion of Haramain

This is the season of Hajj. It is necessary to write something about the developments and expansion of the Haramain, The Masjid al-Haram in Makkah and the Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah al-Munawwarah.

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram
In 1988 King Fahd laid the foundation stone for the third Saudi expansion of the Sacred Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. The prime aim of the multi-million dollar programme was to make the places of Hajj more safely accessible to ever greater numbers. The development incorporated an expansion of the western wing of the existing Masjid al-Haram and a subsequent enlargement of the building to hold more than a million worshippers. The expansion included over 60,000 square metre of prayer area on the enlarged roof, in addition to another almost 86,000 square metre in the surrounding plaza. An elaborate new entrance and 18 smaller entranceways have also been built.

The safety and comfort of the Hajjis has become a major concern for the authorities. The newly laid floor titles are made of specially developed heat-resistant marble and the whole structure is cooled by one of the world’s largest air-conditioning units. To facilitate the movement of the worshippers to the newly developed of area of the Masjid al-Haram during the busiest seasons, additional escalators are incorporated along side a number of fixed stairways in the northern and southern sides of the building.

In November 2004, King Abdullah announced the launching of the giant development projects in Makkah al-Mukarramah at a total cost of more than 35 billion Saudi Riyals. The seven projects include Jabal Omar Development Project, Parallel Road Development Project, Jabal Khandamah Development Project, Shi’b Amir Development Project, Northern Haram (Al-Shamiyah) Development Project and Ajyad Hospital Development Project. In April 2007, the Makkah Development Authority, the Makkah Municipality and the Presidency of the Haramain Affairs announced a further expansion project, to be completed by 2020. The master plan for the development of the city’s central district aims at accommodating three million residents and eight million pilgrims. Further expansion of the Masaa will reduce overcrowding and will be completed before the next Hajj season. Plans are also under way to air-condition the entire built-up area of the Masjid al-Haram.

The 55-year old Ajyad Hospital in Makkah which is located close to the Grand Masjid has been demolished. The 3,000 square meter space where the hospital was located will be added to the Masjid al-Haram’s courtyard, creating prayer space for some 7,000 worshippers. A modern high-tech hospital is being built on a 110,000 square foot plot to the south east of the Masjid to satisfy the needs of pilgrims, Umrah performers and visitors of the Holy Haram.

Expansion of Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah
Work on the Prophet’s Mosque began in 1985 and was completed in 1994. It increased the total area of the Mosque almost five-fold. A unique feature of the expansion project was the development of the 27 main plazas. Each plaza is now capped by a state-of-the-art sliding dome, which can be rapidly opened or closed according to the weather and can be used in unison or separately as required. The project also necessitated the building of six additional minarets, the most powerful visual sign of the Mosque, each 105 metre high construction being crowned with a 4 ton gold-plated crescent.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah laid the foundation stone for a SR. 4.7 billion ($1.25 billion) expansion project at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. The expansion project includes the installation of 182 sunshades in the Mosque’s courtyards which will give shade to more than 200,000 worshippers visiting the Mosque at any time. The development project also includes the expansion of the Mosque’s eastern courtyard by a further 37,000 square metres creating additional prayer space for 70,000 worshippers.

First Hajj flights arrived in Jeddah
More than 3,000 foreign pilgrims on 19 flights arrived at the King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA) on Tuesday, 20th of October, the first day for the arrival of Hajj flights in the present Hajj season. Director General of King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA) Mazen Khashoggi told reporters that this year’s Hajj would witness a qualitative shift in pilgrim services. Pilgrims are being received at 13 gates. Eight new air bridges will be ready for serving them shortly, the official said.

Regarding the new arrangement for the smooth arrival and departure of pilgrim aircraft, the director said, “The peak season of arrivals and departures of pilgrims this year has been extended to 21 days instead of 10 days as in the past. The number of inbound flights each hour at the beginning of Hajj will be limited to six for arrival and five for departure at the end.”

1 comment:

Yousaf said...

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