Sunday, 2 October 2011

Launch of Hajj Awareness Week 2011 at House of Lords

Launch of Hajj Awareness Week 2011

at the House of Lords

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The National Hajj and Umrah (Health & Safety) Awareness Week was launched on Wednesday, 14th of September, 2011 at the House of Lords by the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH). The purpose of this launch was to raise awareness of the health & safety issues amongst the 25,000 prospective British pilgrims who will start travelling soon to join over 2 million other pilgrims in Makkah to perform Hajj. Members of the House of Lords, Members of Parliament, Government officials, Diplomats and community dignitaries were present to support this prestigious launch event.

Haramain Expansion
During this Hajj session, people were not only discussing the health and safety issues but also debating about the spirituality of Hajj, raising concerns about the expansion of Haramain and the historic sites and also talking about the skyscrapers hotels and shopping malls.

With the ever increasing number of pilgrims there is no doubt about the need of expansion of the Haramain. This Haramain expansion programme has been going on for centuries. Whenever there is a necessity for the welfare and comfort of the pilgrims, expansion programme was undertaken. During the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramadan, especially on the last Friday of the Holy month of Ramadan and on the Lailatul Qadr (the Night of Power), the Grand Mosque in Makkah al-Mukarramah was filled to the brim with worshippers, as more than four million pilgrims came from all over the world to perform Umrah, attend Taraweeh and Qiyam-ul-Lail prayers, seeking the blessings of Lailat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power). I have already mentioned about this in my previous column.

King Abdullah ordered the new expansion to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims who come from different parts of the world. Such a measure was essential to meet the requirements of the tremendous increase in the number of worshippers who was expected to exceed more than four million in the last odd nights of Ramadan.

King Abdullah officially launched on 19th of August, 2011, the largest expansion of the Grand Mosque in history, which will increase the Mosque’s capacity to more than 2.5 million worshippers and cost 13 billion pound sterling.

King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, said it is his religious duty to spend “whatever wealth and effort” were necessary to improve facilities for Muslims going on the Islamic pilgrimage.

Writing in The Guardian, London, Ms. Riazat Butt mentioned “some organisations, such as the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, have repeatedly expressed alarm over the destruction of historic sites to make way for skyscraper hotels and shopping malls.”

Ms. Butt pointed out, “Pilgrims, who fail to secure a spot in the Grand Mosque or in its immediate courtyard, worship in the streets and tunnels leading up to it, especially on a Friday when pilgrims will arrive in the early hours to ensure a place for the afternoon prayers. Currently, the maximum numbers performing the Hajj hover around the 4 million mark, with millions more visiting Makkah throughout the year.”

King Abdullah said, “We are proceeding on the kingdom’s religious responsibility; subsequently, we have laid down the foundation stone for expanding the Grand Mosque [and] inaugurated a number of improvement projects in the Two Holy Mosques. That also is only a duty we owe to Allah.”

As I mentioned in previous paragraphs, last Ramadan, King Abdullah inaugurated the historic 13 billion Pound Sterling Haramain expansion project which covers 400,000 square metres and will accommodate an additional 1.2 million worshippers at a time.

Without Haramain expansion, pilgrims will not only suffer uneasiness and discomfort but large number of intending worshippers will be deprived of performing their fifth pillar of Islam due to restricted capacity of Makkah. As Ms. Butt rightly observed in The Guardian, “The restricted capacity of Mecca means that the majority of the world’s Muslims will never be able to perform the Hajj.” (The Guardian, London, 28 September, 2011)

Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne, MP
Now, coming back to the launching of the Hajj Awareness Week, The Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne MP, in his message at this occasion said, “I wanted to extend my support and endorse the work that the Association of British Hujjaj UK does in helping prepare pilgrims for Hajj. This event provides an excellent opportunity to inform British pilgrims of the health and safety issues and precautionary measures to take, ensuring that what will be the journey of a lifetime is a safe and fulfilling one.” He also outlined his plans to provide necessary comfort to British pilgrims, he stated, “the delegation will be on hand to provide consular assistance to any British pilgrim who requires help. I wish all those undertaking Hajj this year a peaceful, successful and rewarding pilgrimage”.

Lord Ahmed
In his welcoming remarks, Lord Ahmed of Rotherham went on to highlight the importance of this event, saying, “by launching this awareness week will enhance Hajj related health & safety awareness amongst British pilgrims. It is important that pilgrims must be aware of all aspects of Hajj to enable them to perform Hajj in the safest and best possible manner”.

Lord Ahmed also mentioned about the tour operators, majority of them have been providing excellent services; but he cautioned, “be careful of bogus tour operators and travel agents.”

Lord Ahmed said during the tenure of Labour government a doctors’ delegation was sent at the government’s expenses but due to budget cuts the government has not yet announced to send such a delegation this year while the health and safety of Hajjis is the responsibility of the government. He said Hajj delegation would have saved hundreds of thousands of pounds of the NHS while it would have contributed towards communal harmony as well.

Lord Ahmed praised the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for providing admirable facilitates for pilgrims. He reminded that health advice issued by the Saudi government for vaccination and other necessary precautions should be strictly followed. This orientation week would ensure necessary information to those departing on this great sacred journey he said and suggested that such programmes should also be introduced in all mosques across the UK.

Lord Phil Hunt
Lord Phil Hunt, Leader of the Labour Group in the House of Lords, praised the hard work and continuous efforts made by the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) U.K. to help and protect the British Hajj pilgrims from hardship, difficulties and he assured his full support towards this noble and humanitarian cause.

“It is amazing to see how much progress has been made over those intervening years as a result of the work of ABH. Thousands of thousands of fellow citizens have got safely and have got encouragement as a result of their experience,” said Lord Hunt and added, “The message for health and safety is as important today as it was in 1999 when we started.”

Lord Hunt also mentioned about tour operators. “I remember two years ago when you held a meeting I was struck by the experience given by the pilgrims about unscrupulousness of some tour operators. It is very unfair to charge all tour operators with harsh because many of them are very good people. But still that remains a major problem.”

Lord Hunt said that the Hajj delegation also sent a positive message to other communities too and it is deplorable that decision has not been taken about it as yet as the Hajjis would be facing problems in its absence.

Members of the House of Parliament, John Hemming, Anas Sarwar, Yasmin Qureshi, also assured their help and support towards the prospective Hajj pilgrims and stressed the importance of the awareness of health & safety and other issues related to performing hajj amongst pilgrims and urged the relevant government departments to provide help and assistance to them.

Announcement of First-ever ABH Special Award
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.

“This cannot be fully achieved without dedicated voluntary help and support by our countrymen up and down the country. We at the ABH most gratefully acknowledge them as “Friend of the Association of British Hujjaj UK”. In recognition of their magnificent services the ABH has decided to present a special award to such friends each year on ongoing basis, Insha Allah.

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. While accepting the Award from the ABH, Dr. Haque said, “All praise goes to Allah the Almighty. I am humbled and honoured by this Award. I am a very humble person. I am trying to do whatever is possible for me for the cause of Islam and Muslims. It is my duty to inform and educate Muslims who are going for Hajj. And that is what I am doing.”

MP Anas Sarwar
Anas Sarwar told me in an interview that he had the good fortune to perform Umrah for three times. “British Hajj delegation was a very positive development by the previous governments which gives consular support, moral support, health support and advice to the thousands of British Hajjis that went to Saudi Arabia.”

Referring to the British Hajj Delegation, MP Sarwar repeated his call for the service “the medical support, consular support and advice in difficult times to thousands of pilgrims during Hajj. I think the government should start the service.”

Yasmin Qureshi, MP
Yasmin Qureshi, MP, told me in an interview that she performed Hajj in 1994 when there was stampede and falling on the ground in throwing stones at Jamarat but such incidents have become very rare thanks to measures taken by the Saudi government. “I had not been for Hajj thereafter; but I did say whatever the Saudi government or the Saudi Embassy has been doing, it is not easy to look after three million people for few days, within a few spaces, it is a very challenging task for them to do this. Surprisingly no more incidents have happened. That is indeed a credit of Saudi Government and their hard work,” MP Qureshi told me.

Speaking about British Hajj Delegation, she mentioned when Labour came to power it supported the Hajj Delegation but that has been taken away by the Conservatives now. “I tried to ask them to continue to support Hajj Delegation. I have written about this, I have raised this issue, but what we need now is to campaign more,” said MP Qureshi.

Mr. Nazir Ali
Mr. Nazir Ali of the Trading Standard Service of Tower Hamlet Borough spoke on consumers and traders’ duties and responsibilities. He also mentioned how they advice the British Hajj pilgrims. He advised the British pilgrims especially to visit the following two websites in order to know about their rights and responsibilities: ©Crown Copyright. URN 07/1166

Ms. Batool Al-Toma from New Muslim Project spoke on women and Hajj. Ms. Shabana Subhan Begum presented her undergraduate Historical Research Dissertation 2011 on “The Modern Hajj: 1924-2010” conducted at Queen Mary, University of London, presented to Lord Ahmed. Ms. Qaisra M. Khan briefed about an exhibition on Hajj to be held under the auspices of British Museum in January 2012.

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