Monday, 24 October 2011

Hajj and the British Muslims - A Historical Perspective

Hajj and the British Muslim Community

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Hajj is an obligatory duty in a lifetime for every capable, both physically and financially to perform Hajj in a lifetime. It is one of the five pillars of Islam. As it is an obligatory duty, it is essential that every Muslim who is planning to go for Hajj is to make himself abreast about different aspects of Hajj. It is necessary to know about the social, economical, moral, educational and religious aspects of Hajj.

British Muslim Community
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. These intending pilgrims have to understand the challenges and the rules and requirements during the Hajj. There are health and safety issues; booking traveling and accommodation issues and more importantly to make them aware about the tour operators and travel agencies.

Hajj Awareness
Feeling the pain of some losses of British Muslim lives during the tragedy which occurred during Hajj in 1989 and realising the importance of proper preparation for Hajj, the Union of Muslim Organisations (UMO) passed a resolution as early as 1990 calling upon the British Foreign Office to consider the establishment of an official Hajj Mission in coordination with the UMO. Some organisations, later on, were also started thinking about the desperate need to make an appropriate arrangement to promote Health & Safety Awareness of the British Pilgrims.

Thus, two organisations came up, one Association of British Hujjaj (ABH), a charity organisation, and another initially Hajj Advisory Committee, composed of major Muslim organisations, later became British Hajj Delegation. Let us begin with the Association of British Hujjaj.

Association of British Hujjaj (ABH)
In order to prevent any future loss of human life amongst British Hajj pilgrims, the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH) the only National Hajj specific voluntary organisation in the United Kingdom, National charity, was formed in 1998 by professionals, senior doctors, religious scholars, and people from all walks of life to research and develop a positive plan to address these issues.

The aim of the Association of British Hujjaj is to provide up to date training and practical advice to pilgrims to perform a safe Hajj by distinguishing health and safety risks and devising strategies to curtail them and to create and update information regarding health and safety matters amongst the community, especially amongst those from relatively lesser educational background.

Hajj Awareness Week
The Association of British Hujjaj (pilgrims) U.K. has taken another initiative to launch first ever National Hajj Umrah (Health and Safety) Awareness Week in December 2004. It was launched by Lord Ahmed of Rotherham (Patron of ABH) at the House of Lords, London. Every year the ABH launches Hajj Awareness Week throughout the United Kingdom to make aware those persons who want to perform Hajj well ahead of the Hajj season immediately after the month of Ramadan.

The purpose of this national event was to raise awareness of the Health & Safety issues amongst the 25,000 prospective British Hajj & Umrah pilgrims who will start travelling from UK to join over 2 million other pilgrims in Makkah to perform Hajj. Every year after the month of Ramadan, the Association of British Hujjaj held a National Hajj (Health & Safety) Awareness Week at the House of Lords.

THE Association of British Hujjaj also carried out Meningitis Awareness Campaign every year. To make Meningitis Awareness Campaign a success, several events were organised, including the extremely successful re-launch of the meningitis campaign at the occasion of its annual conference in Birmingham, before the Hajj in January 2002.

Friends of the Association of British Hujjaj Award
This year, 2011, as usual, the National Hajj and Umrah (Health & Safety) Awareness Week was launched on 14 September, at the House of Lords by the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH). For the first time in 12 years the Association of British Hujjaj has decided to present its special Award for the community services and for the noble cause of Hajj. While announcing the Award, Dr. Syed Raza Hussain, senior doctor from the Association of British Hujjaj, UK, said, “ABH is totally dedicated and committed to provide up to date knowledge and information to British Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.”

Dr. Hussain said, “Today’s selected “Friends of the Association of British Hujjaj, UK” are both well-respected in the community for their integrity, sincerity, loyalty, reliability and upright dedication to their community voluntary services and the noble cause of the ABH.” Today’s chosen two Friends of ABH are Mr. Sarbuland and Dr. Mozammel Haque,” declared Dr. Hussain.

Lord Ahmed, the Patron of the ABH (UK), presented the Award to Dr. Mozammel Haque, Media Advisor of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, on behalf the Association of British Hujjaj (ABH), UK, at the House of Lords, in recognition of his community services and the noble cause of Hujjaj.

British Hajj Delegation: Background
Another organisation which is devoted to the service of British Hujjaj is the British Hajj Delegation. Let us go back to the background history of the formation of British Hajj Delegation. It may be mentioned that as early as September, 1990, the Twentieth Annual Conference of the Union of Muslim Organizations, UK & Eire (UMO), under the leadership of Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha, held in London, called upon the UMO to “continue its negotiations with the British Government to establish an official Hajj Mission to assist the increasing number of British Muslims who are performing Hajj every year.” Next year, again in September, 1991, at its Twenty-First Annual Conference held at the Cavendish Conference Centre, London under the chairmanship of Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha, UMO General Secretary, passed resolution to the effect that this conference “called upon the British Foreign Office to reconsider its position with regard to the establishment of an official Hajj Mission in coordination with the UMO.”

The Association of British Hujjaj (ABH) approached the Foreign Office, and the first meeting between the ABH and Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons was held on 15th July 1999, in the House of Lords. The Minister agreed to facilitate Hajj arrangements to provide healthcare, welfare and support services, such as bereavement, lost pilgrims, loss of luggage, passport, flight tickets and money etc. for British Hujjaj at Makkah in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Pasha had been continuing calling upon the government till Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham was appointed a Peer in the House of Lords when Lord Ahmed, as he has been in the House of Lords, asked the British government to form a delegation that can lead the Muslim members of the British community to Hajj. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office at that time under the leadership of Baroness Symons first established this service for the British Hujjaj. As a result, the British government was the first European or rather first Western government that actually appointed the British Hajj Delegation in 1999.

After a series of meetings at the Foreign Office, the first ever British Hajj Delegation, headed by Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, went to Saudi Arabia to help British Pilgrims at Makkah during the Hajj period in 2000. This delegation set up a camp in Makkah during Hajj 2000 to provide full range of free medical, safety and consular facilities to the British Hajj pilgrims. This delegation has dedicated services to the British Hajj pilgrims on annual basis each year since 2000.

Hajj Advisory Committee
After returning back from Hajj, Lord Ahmed resigned. And just one and a half month before the Hajj of 2001, Baroness Scotland sent the British Hajj Delegation led by Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn in 2001. There was no official launching of the Delegation as there was not enough time to do that.

In 2002, a Hajj Advisory Committee was formed. This Committee consisted of representatives of different shades of the Muslim community and representatives of the major Muslim organisations, such as Union of Muslim Organisations (UMO), Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC), Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Al-Khoei Foundation and others. At that time, the office of the British Hajj Delegation was at the Islamic Cultural Centre, London. Even the British Hajj Delegation used to launch from the Islamic Cultural Centre, London. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw launched the British Hajj Delegation from the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, and addressed by Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan, Director General of the Centre and Lord Patel the leader of the delegation.

British Hajj Delegation
From the very beginning, the British Hajj Delegation was sent to Saudi Arabia by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in partnership with the British Muslim Community. From 2002 to 2006, every year, the British Hajj Delegation was launched by the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw from the Islamic Cultural Centre, Regents Park Mosque, London and it was attended by Lord Patel and Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan, Director General of the Centre. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in partnership with the British Muslim community was sending British Hajj Delegation to Makkah to provide help and support to the thousands of British pilgrims.

In 2006, Margaret Beckett, the then Foreign Secretary, launched the British Hajj Delegation from the Islamic Cultural Centre and Dr. al-Dubayan and Lord Patel addressed the launching event. The British Hajj Delegation represented an exemplary cooperation between the British Government, the Saudi Government, and the British Muslim Community. When David Miliband, MP, became Foreign Secretary he moved the office of the delegation and launched the British Hajj Delegation from the House of Parliament in 2007 and it was addressed by Lord Patel only. In 2008, the British Hajj Delegation was launched again by Foreign Secretary David Miliband from the Lancaster House and addressed by Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom and Lord Patel. And in 2009, it was again launched by David Miliband and addressed by Ambassador Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf and Lord Patel; but this time from the Blue Room of the Foreign Secretary’s Residence.

Thus British Hajj Delegation was started in 1999 and Lord Ahmed led the first British Hajj Delegation to Saudi Arabia in 2000 and from 2001 to 2009, Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn led the British Hajj Delegation. The British Hajj Delegation, since it has started, has directly supported over 23,000 British Pilgrims over the last 13 years.

The British Hajj Delegation, like the Association of British Hujjaj, used to launch every year its delegation before the Hajj. .The British Hajj Delegation used to go to Saudi Arabia every year; hold medical clinics, free medical treatment and offer consular advice in Makkah. There was a partnership among the British Government, the Saudi Government and the British Muslim Community. The Delegation used to comprise of 9 doctors, 3 consular officials and Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn, the leader of the Delegation.

Recollecting those days, Baroness Lady Symons of Vernham said at the House of Lords on 9 April, 2003, “Since 2000, we have supported and funded Hajj delegations. I remember well the valuable help that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, gave me in trying to set up that initiative. It involves a partnership between government and the Muslim community and has also been led by the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Blackburn. This year's delegation, which included eight medical staff, helped about 10 per cent of 15,000 British pilgrims. The noble Lord can take much credit for having been part of the trigger that got that going. We have also been running successful Islamic awareness training courses for our staff.”

British Hajj Consular Delegation 2011
In 2010, the British Hajj Delegation was launched from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by the Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Minister without Portfolio. “Lord Patel has done tremendous amount of work and Lord Ahmed who set up the delegation also did tremendous amount of work,” said Baroness Warsi, at the launching of the British Hajj Delegation on 27th of October 2010 from the Durbar Court, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) London.

This year, 2011, the British Hajj Consular Delegation was launched from the Durbar Court of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the presence of Baroness Warsi, Jeremy Browne, Foreign Office Minister and Ambassador Prince Mohammad bin Nawaf on Monday, the 10th of October, 2011. The launching event was attended by Ambassadors, diplomatic representatives of different Muslim Embassies in London, Community leaders and media personnel. This year Ms. Nagina Akhtar, an experienced Consular Officer from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) will be leading the British Hajj Consular Delegation.

While launching this year British Hajj Consular Delegation, Minister Browne, thanked the Saudi Government for their “excellent services to all pilgrims”. Mr. Browne said, “The government of Saudi Arabia provides excellent services to all pilgrims. We are very grateful for their close cooperation with the British Embassy and the Consulate Directorate here in London.”

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has distributed a leaflet entitled “HAJJIS” which instructs and informs British Muslims what they have to do. The aim of the FCO Hajjis leaflet is to assist British Hajjis in preparing for the Hajj and to explain what services the British Hajj Delegation can offer British pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

Mosque seminars and training programme
Generally, Mosques play an important role everywhere irrespective of Muslim majority and Muslim minority countries to inform pilgrims, train them, giving them a brief introduction and training how to perform Hajj and what are its different rites.

With special reference to United Kingdom, besides the above two organisations, many Mosques hold seminars and training programme throughout the different regions of the United Kingdom, particularly in Midland, in Yorkshire and Scotland to make people become more aware and mentally prepared.