Thursday, 10 December 2009

Shahid Malik-First West European Minister Performs Hajj

Shahid Malik: The First West European
Government Minister Performs Hajj this year

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Shahid Malik, the first West European Government Minister, who, along with his parents, wife and little brother went this year to perform Hajj. He left for Makkah on 22nd and returned back after performing Hajj on 30th of November, 2009. While he was in Saudi Arabia, Minister Shahid Malik, the Minister for Communities and Local Government was Saudi Government guest. Minister Shahid was telling me his experience of First Hajj after returning back from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the 8th of December 2009 at his office.

Makah becomes the most diverse place
Speaking about Makkah and the surrounding areas, the Minister said, “It was very crowded; Hajj is obviously much more demanding. The Umrah gave a very good idea of what you expect with three million-plus people there of all different colours, all different backgrounds, different persuasions, different languages, different races, different ethnicities and different nationalities etc. Makkah becomes the most diverse place anywhere in the world for that one week. So it is amazing to see that diverse community that the world Muslim community is.”

Lots of spaces and wheel chairs
Speaking about Saie between Safa and Marwah, the Minister said, “To be honest, the Saudi authorities make it much lot easier, each year there are improvements and developments, different new layers now. So there are lots of spaces between safa and Marwah and there are much more friendly people with wheel chairs. I took my mum, dad, wife and little brother.”

Walking through the camps just like
going around the world

In Mina, Minister Shahid stayed in the Government Guest House. Speaking about his experience in Mina, the Minister said,. “Saudi government looked after me while I was in the Guest House. I walked many hours in the camps looking for the European camps and the British camps. On the first day I went out and after four hours I gave up. I could not find the camp after four hours of walking. I thought, it may be, I cannot speak Arabic; so the next day I took two Arabic speakers with me. Still it took three and half hours to get there. It is a long way from where we were. Mina is a very small place but very congested with three million-plus pilgrims. So you cannot walk quickly. Again in the camps there are distinctively people of different countries with Indian flag, Bangladeshi flag, Pakistani flag, Indonesian flag, Malaysian flag, Nigerian flag etc. While you are walking through the camps with different flags it is almost like you are going around the world.”

“In Mina, there was rain and also Stoning rain in Jeddah. The weather was unbelievably good. I don’t mind warm weather. It was particularly warm; suddenly it became cold. That was certainly perfect. I walked quite a bit with Mohamed Ali from Islam Channel. We had eight hours walk I think. I visited some of the British camps in Mina,” mentioned Minister Shahid.

Stoning in Jamarat safe and painless
Speaking about the stoning in Jamarat, the Minister Shahid said, “We did the stoning on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is very safe now. It used to be very dangerous. Now there are different levels. It is actually painless.”

While appreciating the improvements done in Mina, the Minister said, “Camp facilities are getting better year after year. Credit to be attributed to the Saudi Government: to be able to manage over three million people moving around the very short time and in the very small space and putting on all facilities, whether it is medical facilities, whether it is camp facilities, tents facilities, the transport facilities were required. Each year these are getting better.”

Monorail system to be introduced in Mina
Speaking about the Monorail system to be introduced in Mina, the Minister Shahid mentioned, “Now when I was there, they were developing a monorail system which will link Mina with Muzdalifah, with Arafah. So people will actually be able to go on the sky on the monorail which will help Hajjis tremendously. Transport is very big challenge. It’s a monorail system on the sky; it’s nothing comparable with the UK system. I think in Japan they have got this system. They are developing that system; they got all pillars in place; they will now put on truck there and then concrete.”

Undoubtedly life-changing experience
Speaking about his impression of Hajj, the Minister Shahid said, “Well, it’s very very powerful I think. For me and for the whole family it’s a very powerful experience. It is undoubtedly a life-changing experience for one who goes and performs Hajj. It was an honour and privilege for me to be able to stay with mum and dad and obviously my wife and brother also. It is an experience shared with those who are nearest and dearest to me. It’s very very powerful.”

Translate lesson into practice
“First time I saw the Ka’aba. Obviously that is something, which you are in awe about long long time. It’s a very powerful, very striking and many people quite emotional as well. All those things I think but one thing which struck me that one point of time the Makkah was the most diverse place in the world. But this diversity which united by virtue of performing Hajj. I saw it would be nice when they will go back to their countries of origin, and the countries they live, if they just think about being united in those countries and also think about being harmonious of those countries as well,” said Minister Shahid.

Saudis committed to improving facilities
Speaking about the facilities Saudi government is providing during Hajj, Minister Shahid mentioned, “By all accounts each year the facilities get better; Saudis are really committed to improving the facilities to offer to the Hajiis. It’s lot easier than it used to be. It’s a lot safer than it used to be. They feel that it is lot of respect for them to serve Hajjis.”

Need to clamp down on some of the abuses
Speaking about some missellng of goods in this country, Minister Shahid mentioned, “There are some misselling of goods going on in this country. I think this kind of abuse is taking place for a long time. We tried to clamp down on some of the abuses through my friend and colleague Garrard Thomas, Consumers Welfare Minister. Hajj or Umrah tour operators promise the earth and when people arrived there, it’s not what is expected. One thing I noticed that lots of people when they get there; they are grateful to be there. They think we are for Hajj, we just forgive and forget and move on. I can understand that. But I would rather prefer they come back and complain so that we can put the tour operators straight. But the majority of them are doing good job but some of them are pretty unscrupulous, I think.”

British Hajj Delegation Brilliant
Speaking about the British Hajj Delegation in Makkah, Minister Shahid said, “The British Hajj Delegation is very good. When I was there, some one from Birmingham rank me; his mother was very ill; she was in hospital there. So I rang Lord Patel and I think the British Hajj Delegation gave the support which is required there. I think it’s brilliant. You know the only government in Europe that provides this Hajj Delegation is the UK government which is a great comfort, I think, to the British Hajjis. We are very proud of this support we give. We recognize the people, our citizens, came from all different backgrounds and our job is to make each one of them, the Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs.”

Meeting with King Abdullah
Speaking about the lunch in Mina, Minister Shahid said, “I had the chance to meet King Abdullah. There was a big lunch in Mina. I met King Abdullah, had a few words and shook hands. He looks to be in good health.”.

Live interview by Islam Channel from Mina
Minister Shahid was interviewed Live on Islam Channel from Mina by Barrister Rizwan. Shahid mentioned a story about Barrister Rizwan. Minister said, “When I went to Bangladesh in June 2008; a little earlier Barrister Rizwan was beaten very badly there in airport. So when I met General Moin; who was factually running the country at that time, I raised the issue of Barrister Rizwan as well as the democratic elections. He promised me two things: we will have democratic elections by December and those people who are responsible I will find them and I will put them in jail. Barrister Rizwan said to me that you know those people they are still in jail today. So I have established a very good news story from that perspective.”

Concluding remarks
Concluding his interview, Minister Shahid said, “Saudis are working on their side. For me, the main frustration is still the way the tour operators work here; the way the visas work through these tour operators here; the kind of packages they sale and the people not being clear about what they are buying some times, that’s the things that need to be improved. The Minister for Consumer Welfare Service, Garrard Thomas, is very much interested to make it sure that the Hajjis get the honest service.”

About Minister Shahid Malik
On 9 June 2009 Shahid Malik was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Shahid was elected as the Member of Parliament for Dewsbury, West Yorkshire at the 2005 General Election. Within a year, Shahid was the only newly elected Labour MP to be appointed to the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee. At the 2005 Parliamentary Oscars, the House Magazine Awards, his Maiden Speech was judged to be the best among the new MPs of 2005 and he received the prestigious House Magazine 'Best Maiden Speech' Award. In February 2006 he was runner-up in the Channel Four News awards in the 'Rising Star' category.

He also served on the Environmental Audit Committee until the Government reshuffle in May 2006 when he was appointed as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Schools Minister Jim Knight MP, a position he held till Gordon Brown appointed him as Britain's first Muslim Minister, at the Department for International Development in June 2007.

In October 2008, Shahid was promoted to serve as Minister for Justice and in March 2009 he was subsequently appointed into a dual role as a Home Office Minister.

Prior to entering Parliament he held a number of significant national roles. Following the 'Good Friday' Peace Agreement he was appointed by Mo Mowlam as the only ever Great British Commissioner to the Northern Ireland Equality Commission (1999-2002).

His other main area of work has been in regeneration and the voluntary sector. He was National Chair of the Voluntary Sector body Urban Forum (1999-2002) and was Chief Executive of Haringey Regeneration Agency managing £150 million of programmes.

From 1998-2002 he served as a Commissioner for Racial Equality covering Great Britain and also served as Vice-Chair of UK UNESCO.

He has also been a Fellow of the Institute of Management (FIMgt) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA).

Shahid Malik was born and raised in Burnley in one of the most deprived areas in Britain, ranked 8th most deprived out of more than 8,000 wards in the country.

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