Saturday, 20 October 2012

Holy Makkah is all set to welcome guests of Allah

Holy Makkah is all set to
welcome Guests of Allah
Dr. Mozammel Haque
For the last four weeks I have been writing in this column about Hajj and what the British intending pilgrims have to do before going for Hajj. I think, now the time has come to inform the intending pilgrims about the rules and regulations, the facilities and arrangement on the ground in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. It is imperative for the prospective Pilgrims to be aware of the rites and rituals, rules and regulations of Hajj. Similarly, it is essential for them to take care of their health and to know about the safety and security matters.

Redouble efforts in service of Pilgrims,
King Abdullah directs officials
King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has directed all concerned officials to redouble their efforts to provide all necessary facilities to pilgrims to ensure that they are able to perform their Hajj rituals in ease and comfort.

Media campaign to spell out Hajj do’s and don’ts
The Governor of Makkah, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, chairman of the Central Hajj Committee, inaugurated the fifth national media campaign for Hajj pilgrims. He said the Kingdom’s services to pilgrims are inspired by its sense of commitment and its awareness that serving the guests of Allah is a great honour.

The campaign aims to improve the quality of service offered by the people in the region, he said. The campaign underscores the importance of scrupulous adherence to Hajj regulations, so that a healthy balance between the number of pilgrims and the spatial capacity of the holy sites is achieved besides getting rid of the squatting, and easing the crowding at the Jamarat and Grand Mosque.

The campaign is based on major principles such as respecting the place and event of the Hajj, respecting the men who go for Hajj in a legal manner and the obedience to regulations governing the pilgrimage, he said. The campaign aims to warn those who go for Hajj without permit about the punishment involved in violating Hajj regulations.

All Hajj Pilgrims need to have vaccinated
The Saudi Ministry of Health has asked pilgrims to make sure that they are vaccinated against meningitis, cholera, yellow fever and dengue fever. It is learnt that disease-detection equipment has been deployed at the health centres of King Abdul Aziz International Airport and Jeddah Islamic Port. Specialised team will review the health certificates of passengers to see what vaccinations they have had. All the 16 entry points of the pilgrims into the Kingdom will be strictly monitored against any contagious disease.

Pilgrims’ Housing
Regulations governing pilgrims’ housing that were introduced four years ago have effectively helped in eradicating many malpractices in the field. Under this law no ramshackle house or aging building will be rented to any pilgrim. Moreover, the law has significantly contributed to the enforcement of safety conditions in 7,000 buildings used for pilgrims’ housing. It is reported that all licensed buildings are almost new, resembling five-star hotels.

26,000-strong force for security
The Civil Defence Department would deploy around 26,000 men, 6,900 equipment and devices and 19 helicopters in Makkah and other holy sites during this Hajj season to ensure the safety and security of pilgrims. The department’s Hajj plan aimed at taking all preventive measures to protect the guests of Allah, provide them safety from floods and accidents and ensure speedy intervention in case of emergencies.

The department would have more than 450 field units and teams in Makkah and other holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah to deal with dangers and accidents quickly, adding that they have been provided with equipment to fight fire and rescue people.

Large Helicopter fleet deployed for Hajj security
The Saudi authorities have deployed a bigger fleet of helicopters in Hajj security operations this year, it is learnt. The force comprises pilots, technicians, engineers, administrators and paramedics, totally reaching 360. The total number of helicopters is 19, as mentioned earlier. They will participate in Hajj security; mainly will be used in firefighting in crowded areas, such as tents and warehouses, in addition to rescue operations and airlifting of casualties to hospitals.

Female officers to combat crime
For the first time the Public Security Department has decided to deploy female officers and dispatch them to places where male officers cannot enter during the Hajj season.

Additionally, 21 patrol teams, 8 teams for detecting and removing explosives as well as teams who keep a close watch on pickpockets at crowded places have been set up. Surveillance cameras installed all over Mina and Arafat to provide pilgrims with safety and security and allow them to perform their rituals with ease and comfort.

Saudi authorities have taken all precautions to prevent contagious diseases from spreading during the Hajj season, when nearly 2 million Muslims from all over the world flock to the Kingdom for the annual pilgrimage. Millions of people from different parts of the world living in a limited area for a number of days or weeks can easily spread infectious diseases and epidemics. Saudi government has astutely stepped in with compulsory vaccinations for all pilgrims.

Immunization during Hajj
All pilgrims are required to get immunized, 14 or more days before arrival in Saudi Arabia. The Meningitis vaccination was made mandatory following outbreaks of the disease in the country.

Pilgrims travelling to Hajj are given three vaccines: the meningococcal vaccine, which is mandatory for all Hajj travellers to protect against Meningitis; the seasonal influenza vaccine, which is required for people with heart, kidney and liver diseases to protect against pneumococcal diseases.

People at higher risk include those above 65 years of age, people with weakened immune systems, patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, lung, heart and kidney diseases and cancer.

Healthcare services
The Saudi Ministry of Health has announced its readiness to provide pilgrims with the best preventive, diagnostic and emergency healthcare services, it is learnt. According to a report, a new hospital has been opened east of Arafat to provide the required medical services to the pilgrims this Hajj. The 236-bed hospital has been built as per the highest international standards. It has 50-beds in its Intensive Care Unit, and 30-beds to deal with emergency cases.

15 hospitals, 175 centres to provide services
One hundred sixty-six healthcare facilities spread in Makkah, Madinah and other holy sites will be enough to cover all the pilgrims. These facilities include 25 hospitals with a capacity of 5,250 beds (20 per cent for intensive care and emergencies) and 141 primary healthcare centres. Around 20,000 healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, paramedics, technicians and administrators have been mobilized to serve pilgrims at these facilities, reported in the press.

15 hospitals with a combined capacity of 3,886 beds will provide pilgrims with services this year. Eight hospitals will be working round the clock in the holy sites. These are in Arafat and Mina.

In addition to the hospitals, 175 primary healthcare centres will be offering their services to pilgrims. In Makkah, 75 healthcare centres will be operational while in Arafat 46 will be open. In Mina, there will be 44 healthcare centres, six in Muzdalifah and five inside the Grand Mosque.

Further, to cater to the needs of specialised needs of pilgrims, it is learnt, a heart surgery unit at King Abdullah Medical City in Makkah has been provided with the latest state-of art equipment. More than 16,000 blood units have been secured to use them in case of injuries and operations, while more than 175 ambulance vehicles have been mobilized.

These services come in line with the comprehensive plan to serve pilgrims, mobilized all the human resources to provide exquisite medical healthcare services to pilgrims.

First aid course for women
Fifteen female volunteers from South Asia Tawafa Establishment have taken an intensive first-aid course in preparation for this year’s Hajj. The course trained the volunteers to provide first-aid services to pilgrims during emergencies. The first-aid course focused on cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills, how to deal with epileptic cases, diabetic comas, wounds, fractures, sunstrokes, burns, cardiac arrests and others.

It is learnt that the Aziziah flyover is connected to Jamarat this year, whereas in the past only the King Khalid flyover was the only connection. Saudi Arabia has spent SR7 billion on the five-level Jamarat Bridge that has 24 gates to avoid overcrowding on the bridge.

Mashair Train capacity increased
It is reported that Al-Mashair Train capacity will increase this year to 500,000 pilgrims, up from 250,000 last year, to reduce the number of buses. This year’s plan will ensure vehicular traffic and pedestrians are kept separate from each other.

Pakistani Pilgrims will use Mashair Train
Around 180,000 Pakistani pilgrims will be able to use the Mashair Train this Hajj season due to the efforts exerted by the Pakistani Hajj mission and its negotiations with Hajj authorities in the Kingdom. Pakistan is the first country whose pilgrims will use the Mashair Train instead of buses this year.

Vehicle tracking technology
Traffic police for the first time this Hajj season, it is learnt, will test mobile technology to electronically identify vehicles by placing cameras connected directly to the database of the National Information Centre on the roads and main entrances to Makkah. Monitoring will be completely electronic and will identify the vehicles, their projected route, how many have entered, and passengers’ names.

Taif Airport for Pilgrims
The Shoura Council of Saudi Arabia has approved the use of Taif Airport for the arrival and departure of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, it is learnt. The use of Taif Airport will help reduce the pressure on King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah. Taif Airport is located 30 km to the east of Taif and 70 km from Makkah.

Transporting all pilgrims between Makkah and Madinah this year will require 35,000 bus trips and each bus will need to carry out on average seven trips each.

The number of pilgrims coming from abroad is 1.7 million, and in coming years 4 million pilgrims will join them from within the country. All of them will head to the same place at the same time; therefore there is a need to put into place more plans to serve them.

Ensuring cleanliness in the holy sites
The main challenges that arise during Hajj, including ensuring cleanliness in the holy sites, were discussed at King Abdul Aziz University (KAU) in Jeddah recently. The meeting discussed management strategies for Hajj and recommended increasing the number of toilets and providing food from outdoor camps to prevent possible fires. There are 14 different bodies that work together to serve pilgrims.

Over 5 million meals will be distributed to pilgrims, who will be occupying three quarters of Makkah’s available accommodation this Hajj season, it is reported.

1 million free meals for pilgrims
It is also learnt that more than 4,000 volunteers, both male and female, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia will prepare around one million meals for Hajj pilgrims. The initiative was the brainchild of two local organisations in Dammam. A booklet written by Yusuf Estes, a former American minister who reverted to Islam in 1991, about the Prophet (peace be upon him) will be distributed with each meal.

This year, the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has focused more on using electronic advertising boards at main squares and streets in Makkah and Madinah to educate pilgrims on the Hajj.

Six million books to educate pilgrims
Over 6 million books, films and pamphlets in different languages have been compiled for domestic pilgrims. For overseas pilgrims, the ministry has made 12 million Holy Qur’an copies and recordings in 32 languages. The ministry is also cooperating with 90 satellite channels as well as local Saudi TV and Radio to air educational programmes about the Hajj.

The main purpose and objective of this effort is to make the pilgrims understand the obligations and rulings related to Hajj and perform the rituals in the simplest way possible.

Upon arrival through land, air and sea entry ports, each pilgrim will be provided with two Hajj books, a copy of the Holy Qur’an and a Hajj CD. Upon departure, each pilgrim will be given four Hajj books.

Voluntary Medical Team in Holy Sites
On 18th of October, 2012, a voluntary Medical team under the British Hajj Delegation (BHD), a newly formed charity organisation, left for Saudi Arabia for the purpose of serving the British pilgrims, Lord Adam Patel, leader of the British Hajj Delegation, told me in an interview. The medical team consists of nine doctors; all of them are GP practitioners.

There will be two surgeries and one waiting room. The clinic will be effective from 19th of October and will be located in Makkah at the Burj Al-Sultan Hotel, Ibrahim Al-Khalil Street, Makkah and in Mina, the voluntary medical clinic of the BHD is set up in the tents near the Saudi Clinic No. 10 in the Europa Zone in Mina. It will be operative from 8th to 12th of Zil-Hijjah, Lord Patel said.

The clinic is usually open for around 14 to 16 hours every day. The clinic will be in Mina and Makkah for 5 days.

For contact, the following numbers in Saudi Arabia will be active from 19th of October, 2012 (Within Saudi Arabia; 0557 437 100 & 0557 440 200.)

UK Launches Hajj Consular Delegation 2012

UK launches Hajj Consular Delegation

Dr. Mozammel Haque
The 14th Hajj Consular Delegation to accompany British pilgrims to Saudi Arabia has been launched today, the 19th of October 2012 by the Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds.

This is the 14th year of the Hajj Consular Delegation, which has now provided consular support to thousands of British Hajjis.

Foreign Office Minister responsible for Consular Services, Mark Simmonds said: “We understand how deeply important the Hajj is to the Muslim community and I have been taking a keen interest in preparations for the Hajj Consular Delegation. We are absolutely committed to providing appropriate Consular services to British Pilgrims during Hajj through having consular officers on the ground in Makkah and Jeddah. Last year we provided a wide range of consular support, including replacing emergency travel documentation and supporting British pilgrims who required urgent medical assistance.”

Foreign Office Minister acknowledged the excellent facilities and services provided by Saudi Arabian government to all pilgrims. He said, “Saudi Arabia provides excellent facilities and services to all pilgrims and I would like to thank Saudi Arabia for everything it does for British Pilgrims on Hajj.”

Foreign Office Minister Mr. Simmonds wished a peaceful, successful and rewarding pilgrimage to those undertaking Hajj this year. “Effective preparation by pilgrims – such as ensuring they have appropriate travel insurance and carry copies of their passports and other important documentation – is key to ensuring a safe and trouble-free Hajj. I hope that all those undertaking Hajj this year will have a peaceful, successful and rewarding pilgrimage,” he said.

Approximately 25,000 British Muslims are expected to participate in this year Hajj. A British Hajj Delegation (BHD) has been based in Makkah every year since 1999. This year’s Hajj is expected to take place from 24-29 October.

Foreign Office press release mentioned, “Our focus remains providing appropriate support to those in need.”

“Last year the consular delegation provided a wide range of support to British Muslims. This included: providing emergency travel documentation to replace lost or stolen passports; support to hospitalised pilgrims; making the necessary logistical and bureaucratic arrangements for bereaved families in the event of death and advice to British pilgrims who were victims of unscrupulous tour operators and assisting referring these cases to the Ministry of Hajj,” it said.

Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised British Pilgrims to visit the FCO website for travel advice and 2012 Hajj information leaflets (website at:

The Delegation will be located at the Elaf Kinda Hotel, Makkah. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office provides 24-hour telephone support for British pilgrims. Please contact Saudi number 00966 (0) 501 128 731.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Hajj Awareness Week 2012 Launched at the House of Lords

Hajj Awareness Week 2012
launched at the House of Lords
Dr. Mozammel Haque
The Association of British Hujjaj, UK, (ABH) the oldest Hajj-related National charity organisation, launched Hajj Awareness Week 2012 at the House of Lords, on Tuesday, the 9th of October 2012. The purpose of this launch was to raise awareness of the health & safety issues amongst the 25,000 prospective British Pilgrims who are joining over two million pilgrims from around the world in Makkah. To support this prestigious event, members of the House of Lords, Government officials, diplomats and community dignitaries were present.

Lord Ahmed of Rotherham
Lord Ahmed, Patron of the British Hujjaj Association, who has been working together with the ABH along with Lord Hunt for the last 13 years reminded the gathering that Labour government initiated first and the historic Hajj Delegation which he had the honour of leading to Makkah, Mina and Arafat in 2000 on behalf of the British government and more importantly to serve the people, 25,000 British Hujjaj there.

Lord Ahmed paid tribute to Khalid Pervez and his dedicated team at the ABH who has been working tirelessly voluntarily for the 13/14 years and carrying out an extensive campaign to raising awareness of pre-travel health & safety issues through high profile multi-lingual publicity campaigns, because Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam which is very important for Muslims.

In his welcoming remarks, Lord Ahmed mentioned about tour operators. He said majority of the tour operators are very good and they do good job. But there is one or two who are fraudulent and it is always time to remind people to be aware of those fraudulent people who take money and run away. The ABH addresses the extremely serious issue of the worsening situation of exploitation of British Hujjaj who experience extreme hardship at the hands of unscrupulous tour operators and travel agents.

Lord Ahmed went on to highlight the importance of this event, saying that “to perform the Hajj in the safest and best possible manner, pilgrims must be aware of all aspects of performing Hajj, by launching this awareness campaign, we will enhance Hajj related health & safety awareness amongst British pilgrims.”

Lord Ahmed acknowledged and appreciated the fantastic work of the Saudi government by saying that Saudi government provides very good service in Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat. He mentioned “when we have 50,000 or 100,000 refugees or even people in any one event it is almost impossible for us.”

The admirable facilities provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were praised by Lord Ahmed. He mentioned about the preparations for the Olympics and said, quite frankly to have three million people from overseas and three to four million locals that come from the Arabian peninsula for Hajj in Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat are provided services with food water and everything year after year.

Lord Phil Hunt, Deputy Leader
House of Lords
Lord Phil Hunt, deputy leader of the House of Lords, who has been working with the ABH recollected 13 years ago when he first came to a meeting in Birmingham to talk about the issue of safety and health, since then thousands of pilgrims have gone from UK on pilgrimage and the number grows year on year. Lord Hunt said, there have been vast improvements and the campaign about health immunization has undoubtedly had a major impact and because of it many lives has been saved. But we know we can’t be complacent I think two people have lost their lives last year.

Lord Hunt also mentioned that although we meet every year we don’t become complacent; we don’t underestimate the need for programmes like this to get this point across to the many pilgrims who go from the United Kingdom. So it is great pleasure for me to take part in this event and of course the event in Birmingham.

“One thing I have learnt from speaking at various occasions has been the issue of tour operators. Like Lord Ahmed, my good friend, I very much agree that most operators do responsible job, as we heard from Birmingham Trading Standards department. There are enough instances where this is not happened; we have serious problem,” said Lord Hunt and mentioned, “When we first debated this in Birmingham few years ago and of course no action being taken against any operator.”

Lord Hunt said, “I remember, we had representation from Birmingham Trading Standard Department and I think from that moment it became clear that we had a department which is going to be prepared to be serious and I think we should pay a great tribute to it and for the work they have done. In Birmingham we belief we are the leading city in the UK where Birmingham leads and other follow.”

While launching Hajj Awareness Week in Birmingham 10 days ago, Lord Hunt said that it seems to me that no greater symbol of the need for us to be tolerated and integrated is the fact that there has been a real effort by the previous government and I hope by this government another agency to actually support pilgrims on this great journey and I think for me it is a symbol of a kind of a country we are and wanted to be. That’s why I am proud to be invited here again today.

Deputy Leader of the House of Lords commended the hard work and continuous efforts made over a decade by the Association of British Hujjaj to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of Hajj pilgrims. He assured his full support towards this noble and humanitarian cause for helping and protecting the British Hajj pilgrims from hardship and difficulties.

Dr. Syed Raza Hussain
Dr. Syed Raza Hussain from ABH talked about Meningitis awareness. He does annually and the importance of this injections and the legal requirement from Saudi authorities. Dr Hussain strongly urged the prospective pilgrims to safeguard against infectious diseases such as Meningitis which is a killer disease. Meningitis is a sure killer. Save yourself by timely action. Get vaccinated today. I repeat get vaccinated TODAY. Because TOMORROW might be too late; or indeed who knows, it may never ever come at all, he said and added, therefore, all the prospective pilgrims must ensure to get the Meningitis vaccination before they leave for Hajj.

Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed
Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed, chairman of the Muslim Doctors Association, stressed that prospective pilgrims must take every precaution to ensure their Health and Safety during Hajj because they are always at high risk of contracting infectious diseases due to factors such as crowded conditions at ceremonies, accommodation sites, and public transport.

Mr. Saleh Kiyani
Mr. Saleh Kiyani, Minister for Communities and Welfare at Pakistan High Commission, London, emphasized on the need to create awareness about Hajj among the community and said those who are involved in this noble and religious work will get their reward from Allah the Almighty. About 25,000 pilgrims go for Hajj every year and they travelled from UK, Mr. Kiyani said. He is grateful to the Association of British Hujjaj for organising every year seminar to create awareness about Hajj among the pilgrims.

The officials from Police, Trading Standards Department, and ABTA also spoke and ensured that the Government authorities will make every effort to help and protect British Hajj pilgrims from exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous and rogue tour and travel operators.

Ms. Kaya Rebecca
Ms. Kaya Rebecca, Trading Standards Officer from Buckinghamshire County Council Trading Standards, explaining the different Travel Package Regulations and what the Trading Standards departments can do, said, help us to protect others by eliminating the rogues and bringing the security back into making this, the greatest of journeys. She also mentioned about those leaflets approved and developed by ABH such as BIS information for booking a pilgrimage Package, BIS information for organisers of package trips, Hajj-Essential information about Fraud from the City of London Police; Hajj-Foreign & Commonwealth Office advice and Bucks County Hajj Survey form and envelop.

Mr. Asif Sadiq
Mr. Asif Sadiq from the City of London Police said to the community to come forward. He said, please don’t suffer in silence. If things go wrong, please have confidence on us and come forward.

Association of British Hujjaj Award
Earlier, while officially launching the Hajj Awareness Week 2012, Birmingham Trading Standards department was awarded for their hard work and achievements to ensure the strict implementation of UK Laws. The Association of British Hujjaj declared this year’s Award which was presented to Ms. Sajeela Naseer, Head of Birmingham Trading Standards and Mr. Mohammed Tariq, Senior Trading Standards Officer, for their hard work and achievements for the British pilgrims. The ABH started the Award presentation ceremony, for the first time, last year in 2011 when Mr. Surbuland and Dr. Mozammel Haque were chosen as “Friends of the Association of British Hujjaj”.

The Association of British Hujjaj, UK, a National Charity, formed in 1998, has been working closely with the Government Departments and British Muslim Community to coordinate their efforts for the welfare of British Hujjaj.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Launch of British Hajj Delegation 2012

Launch of British Hajj Delegation 2012
at the Islamic Cultural Centre

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The British Hajj Delegation, a new Charitable organisation headed by Lord Adam Patel, the former leader of the official British Hajj Delegation, was launched at the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC), London, on the 29th of September, 2012. It is not the British government official Hajj delegation; it is a private initiative whose chairman is Lord Adam Patel. Of course, Lord Patel has been the leader of the official British Hajj Delegation from 2001 to 2009. From 2010 the British Government had been sending a British Hajj Consular Delegation responsible for the pilgrims.

At the very beginning, I want to make a clear-cut distinction between British Hajj Delegation (official/Government) and British Hajj Delegation (private initiative, may be a charity organisation). Are you confused? Let me make it clear.

British Hajj Delegation (official): Background
First go back to the background history of the formation of British Hajj Delegation (official). As early as September, 1990, the Union of Muslim Organizations, UK & Eire (UMO), under the leadership of Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha, 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 1991, UMO 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 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 who 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, history was made. 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 pilgrims on an annual basis each year since 2000.

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.”

Thus British Hajj Delegation was started in 1999 and Lord Ahmed led the first British Hajj Delegation to Saudi Arabia in 2000 and from next year, 2001 to the year, 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.

British Hajj Delegation, 2000-2009
The British Hajj Mission represented an exemplary cooperation between the British Government, the Saudi Government, and the British Muslim Community. The British Hajj Mission was in cooperation with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) had a series of meetings. In 1999 Baroness Symons announced that the first British Hajj Delegation led by Lord Ahmed of Rotherham went in 2000 for Saudi Arabia. In the second year, i.e. 2001, Baroness Scotland announced that the second British Hajj Delegation led by Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn would lead the delegation for 2001. But, as the British Hajj Mission represented an exemplary cooperation between the British Government, the Saudi Government and the British Muslim Community, thus from 2002, the British Hajj Delegation was launched from the Islamic Cultural Centre, London.

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 Dubayan, Director General of the Centre. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in partnership with the British Muslim community had been sending British Hajj Delegation to Makkah to provide help and support to the thousands of British pilgrims.

The British Hajj Delegation used to launch every year its delegation before the Hajj. It used to go to Saudi Arabia every year; held 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.

In this connection, it should also be mentioned that in the first two/ three years, so far as I remember, there was a British Hajj Advisory Committee where the Muslim organisations including ICC, MCB, UMO and others were members and they used to meet with the leader and staff of the British (Government official) Hajj Delegation and discussed about different aspects of Hajj.

British Hajj Consular Delegation, 2010-2011
In 2010, the British Hajj Consular 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, FCO, London.

In the 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, Cabinet Minister without Portfolio, Jeremy Browne, Foreign Office Minister and HE Prince Mohammad bin Nawaf Ambassador of Saudi Arabia in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 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.

British Hajj Delegation 2012 (Private initiative)
That was the brief history and functioning of the British Government official Hajj Delegation or which we can say the British Hajj Delegation (official/ government) (see details, visit . Now the British Hajj Delegation launch that took place on 29th September this year, i.e. 2012 is not an official British Hajj Delegation, nor is it launched by Foreign Secretary or any Minister from Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). It is a British Muslim private initiative.

Dr. Ahmad Al-Dubayan
While welcoming the launching of the new organisation, British Hajj Delegation, Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan, the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, mentioned about the remarkable initiative by the British Muslim community to help Hajjis. He said, “As far as I know there is nothing similar in Germany, France and Italy, or Spain or any other country in Europe. Foreign office gratefully participated for many years with this under the leadership of Lord Patel and who did a lot of efforts to let this committee or delegation continue to be a tradition of the Muslim community of this country. But unfortunately, for lot of circumstances and situations that was not possible.”

Dr. Dubayan said now it is the task of the Muslim community to continue this initiative and to let it flourish and develop.

On behalf of the British Muslim community, Dr. Dubayan acknowledged the support and all the efforts of the Saudi Embassy in the UK (whose representative is HE Abdul Rahman Al-Aneezi who is with us today) in tackling problems related to facilitation of the Hajis. He also appreciated the continuous support of Abdul Rahman Al-Aneezi, Counsellor of the Saudi Embassy in the UK all these years.

He also admired the efforts done by the Health Ministry of Saudi Arabia to guarantee to have safe Hajj every year and every season.

Referring to the large gathering of three to four million people coming together from all corners of the world, Dr. Dubayan said, “Let me say a big occasion needs a special kind of management; a special kind of care; a special kind of attention. This is something remarkable and it should not be forgotten and we should thank them for all the work they are doing in all these years.”

Dr. Dubayan further said that taking care of around four million Hajis who come from all walks of life is not an easy feat. He said that managing a pilgrimage of such a magnitude every year is indeed remarkable because the guests of Allah are given special care and attention.

HE Abdur Rahman Aneezi
HE Abdul Rahman Al-Aneezi, Counsellor from the Saudi Embassy in UK, said, “During Hajj, millions of Muslims, old and young, rich and poor from the world all over gather in one place, at the same time, standing together on an equal footing, and dressed as one. Hajj is a true reflection of the principles of Islam where no man or woman is better than another and all Muslims are equal in the eyes of God.”

“Hajj is an occasion where Muslims from all nations are given a golden opportunity to know each other better and learn more about each other’s issues and concerns and practice Islam’s teachings of compassion, tolerance, care, and cooperation with others,” said Mr.Al- Aneezi.

Mr. Al-Aneezi also mentioned, “In Saudi Arabia, we are truly blessed with the distinct honour and responsibility of being the custodians, stewards and servants of Islam’s most important holy places including the two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah. This is a blessing that we thank God for, and a responsibility which we do not take lightly.”

“The kingdom puts its responsibility to Islam first. It puts an immense human, financial and administrative effort into caring for these sites and for pilgrims visiting them from around the world including British Muslims,” he said.

Mr. Aneezi also said, “Hardly a week or month passes without a new project being launched to improve and care for these holy sites.”

The number of Muslims visiting Saudi Arabia each year for religious reasons is expected to increase as the number of Muslims throughout the world continues to grow. Mr. Aneezi said, “As a result, the kingdom is constantly challenged to improve its facilities and the services it provides to meet the needs of this ever increasing number of pilgrims.”

He also enlightened the audience about the plan of King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, to expand the Prophets’ Mosque in Madinah.

Lord Adam Patel
Lord Adam Patel, chairman of the newly-formed Charity organisation, British Hajj Delegation, said the core of the British Hajj Delegation works is in the provision of the medical support to the British and other Hujjaj in Makkah and Mina.

Lord Patel praised the commitment and selfless dedication of the doctors who voluntarily give up 16 days of their time each year. He mentioned, “The doctors see a variety of medical condition, ranging from minor condition right through the most threatening one and having the advantage of British Delegation at Mina where the doctors are able to treat the minor conditions and refer to the serious ones to the local Saudi hospitals.”

Lord Patel mentioned, “A Report Commissioned by the UK Government Foreign & Commonwealth Office a few years ago estimated that over one million pounds are saved every year as a result of the work carried out by the British Hajj Delegation. Alhamdo Lillah. Just to put that into perspective we have now supported over 30,000 people in the last 11 years.”

Lord Patel also mentioned, “Looking after the estimated 25,000 pilgrims from the UK and the estimated two million from around the world is no easy task. No other country in the world has to do anything similar on an annual basis. If you just cast your mind back to a few months where our great city of London hosted the Olympic and Paralympics games how much planning went into that.”

“I am always impressed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in how it constantly meets the challenges that Hajj presents; not only that but how eager it is to serve the guests of Almighty Allah by continuously improving the infrastructure for Hajjis,” said Lord Patel and highlighted the works done at some of the key holy sites. These include expansion of the Haram and the Jamarat; the Mashair train that runs between Makkah, Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat, among many others.

While concluding his speech Lord Patel paid his “tribute to Baroness Scotland and the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who gave us valuable help in our infancy” and expressed his heartfelt thanks to “the Ambassador HE Prince Mohammad bin Nawaf and his officials in the Saudi embassy in London for their unrelenting support over the years. Of course to Dr. Dubayan, who was part of the team right from the beginning.”

Dr. Ali Hamed Gamdi
Dr. Ali Hamed S. Al-Ghamdi, Health Attache from the Saudi Cultural Bureau in UK mentioned, “We have a very good and unique experience in the world with managing health and crowd. The UK government during the Olympic games sought the advice of the Saudi government about how they can go to manage crowd in the Olympics.”

Mr. Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, and Baroness Paula Uddin, also addressed the gathering and promised their cooperation.

Hajj: A Lifetime Spiritual Journey

Hajj: A Lifetime Spiritual Journey
Dr. Mozammel Haque

ISLAM IS A PRACTICAL RELIGION which lays down a complete code of life. It makes various provisions for creating peace and harmony in the lives of mankind as well as in the universe. Peace and harmony can be achieved only when there is solidarity and universal brotherhood among human beings. Islam preaches this concept and puts it into practice through the unique annual assemblage of the pilgrims during Hajj.

The institution of Hajj in Islam is quite extraordinary and unparalleled. It is only Islam that has made the annual assemblage at one place, Makkah, an obligation for the capable Muslims from all corners of the world. In other words, it may be called the World Muslim Congress. This assembly has many distinctive features which no other gathering has and no other religion stipulates. The concept of unity and brotherhood is embedded in Islam in such a way that one is truly amazed to see millions of Muslims dressed in two white sheets of cloth gathered at one particular place, i.e. in Arafat during a fixed time on certain fixed days in the year. All human and man-made barriers and distinctions are demolished during that assembly.

We shall here deal with the aspects of unity and universal brotherhood which, besides others, are quintessential among the concepts of Hajj. First, let us take universal brotherhood. This universal brotherhood emanates from the following basic concepts and is demonstrated in a most authentic and brilliant manner here on this occasion:

Adam is the first man from whom all human beings have sprung up;
Abraham is the father of monotheistic religion;
Acceptance of all prophets as prophets of God;
Belief in all revealed books of Allah.

Thus, this acceptance of Abraham as the patriarch of the concept of Tawheed and recognition of the continuity of Prophethood from Prophet Adam to the Last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and having faith in all revealed books keeps up a chain of faith known as Islam throughout the world. This binds the whole humankind into a bond of brotherhood whose genealogical father is Adam and the spiritual father Abraham. Thus Muslims believe in the continuation of the human race on earth. There are no conflicts and controversies in the monotheistic religion decreed by God. All Muslims (those who consciously and willingly surrender to the Will of the Creator) belong to this Ummah and therefore constitute a fraternity of faith. This is one way the Hajj conveys the message of universal brotherhood.

This aspect of universal brotherhood can also be noticed during Hajj when Muslims come from remote corners of the world and congregate in Makkah in the vicinity of the House of God, i.e. Baitullah. Though they might have come from the east or west, north or south, and all differences in colour, language, race and nationality notwithstanding, they find their oneness on the basis of their faith in One God, One Qiblah, One Book and One Prophet.

The practical training for this universal brotherhood starts from the local or neighbourhood level with the five times daily prayers in the mosque, which gets enlarged with the Friday prayers once a week. The circle is again made substantially larger during the Eid prayer, and it becomes internationalised transforming into a global gathering once in a lifetime. So the concept and training in universal brotherhood, which reaches its peak, starts from the very childhood at the local level.

As regards unity, Islam, first of all, removed all man-made bonds and barriers bringing all human beings into one global family tracing their genealogical origin to common parents and biological chemistry to one element, i.e. clay. Almighty God has laid down in the Holy Qur’an, “O Mankind, We have created you from a male and a female.” (49: 13) This establishment of absolute equality on the basis of their ancestral origin and biological composition removes all artificial differences between man and man.

The enforcement of the concept of Muslim brotherhood is the greatest social ideal of Islam. Islam places emphasis on unity and unifies mankind on the basis of one God, one Book - the Qur’an, one Qibla - the Ka’aba and one leader - the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Noble Prophet’s mission was to establish unity and peace throughout the world. The Islamic concept of unity transcends all other forms of unity based on territory, geographical boundary, linguistic and ethnic affinity. He united Muslims on the basis of faith, which is the Oneness of God, Islam.

On this vital concept was based the Prophet’s sermon in his last pilgrimage, which shows that Islam cannot be completely practiced until this ideal is achieved. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) unified and cemented the Muslim Ummah under the banner of La ilaha illallah Muhammadur-Rasoolullah by establishing the first-ever Islamic state in Madina, which later on took the shape of a grand Caliphate. Under the Caliphate the Muslim Ummah was unified and integrated. Thus the first concept of universal and worldwide unity was demonstrated by Prophet Muhammad more than fourteen hundred years ago having been guided and inspired by God for establishing unity and peace in the world.

Islam is essentially a community and group-oriented religion. So, the practical lesson in unity and equality first starts within the family, then in the neighbourhood, especially through the institution of five daily prayers in the mosque and still on a larger scale in the locality, during weekly Friday prayers, and then in much larger gatherings in the two Eid prayers and ultimately in the international or global gathering during Hajj. This very characteristic and feature of Islam demonstrates the universality of this religion and its heavenly origin which transcends all worldly barriers of race, colour, class and nationality.

Pilgrimage is the best occasion to bind again the loose threads, tighten them on the basis of belief and in the presence of God and frustrate the nefarious machinations of the enemies of the Ummah’s unity.

Another aspect of Hajj is making sacrifice in the way of God for the cause of Islam. As Islam itself is a religion of sacrifice, its different pillars also contain the same features and characteristics. It is a known fact that the Islamic or Hijra calendar starts with the month of Muharram and ends with the month of Hajj. The first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, is the month of sacrifice – a sacrifice made by the grandson of Muhammad, Hussain ibn Ali, who laid down his life at Kufa in the cause of Islam and its ideals. Similarly, the 12 months of the Hijra calendar, the month of Hajj, marks the remembrance of the sacrifice made by the Prophet Ibrahim for the sake of God and His Pleasure.

The Patriarch, the first Prophet of monotheistic religion, Islam, the Prophet Ibrahim was ready to sacrifice his most loved one for the sake of God. He loved his only son, Ismail, more than anything else. God asked him to sacrifice Ismail. Ibrahim was going to sacrifice Ismail, in the way of God by His Order. The Holy Qur’an explains the story of Ibrahim and his son Ismail thus:

Then when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: “O my son; I see in vision that I offer you in sacrifice. Now say what is your view.” (The son) said: “O my father; do as you are commanded; you will find me, if God so wills, one practising patience and constancy.” So when they had both submitted their wills (to God), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice), We called out to him, “O Ibrahim; you have already fulfilled the vision; thus indeed do We reward those who do right.” (37:102-105) The Qur’an says: “And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice.” (37:107)

The sacrifices made by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail for the love of God left an indelible imprint on the history of mankind. This sacrifice is still remembered and re-enacted during Hajj. Ibrahim left a glorious record of sacrifice to please God.

In modern times, sacrifice is symbolised by an act of slaughtering a camel, cow or lamb for the sake of God during the days of Eid-al Adha, i.e. starting after the Eid prayer till the sunset on the third day of Eid. Sacrifice is a strongly recommended Sunnah of the Prophet and was introduced in the second year after Hijra. The purpose of sacrifice is to remind oneself of the great sacrifice of Ibrahim.

The sacrifice of life and wealth in the way of God is the zenith of a man’s belief. God says: “By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give (freely) of that which you love; and whatever you give, of a truth God knows it well.” (Al-Qur’an 3:92) This means that when something, which has been held so dear, is sacrificed in the way of God one may hope to secure God’s Pleasure. The verse tells us that to attain righteousness one has to sacrifice things, but to attain it in perfection one has to sacrifice things, dearer to one.

Every sacrifice and every effort is to be aimed at seeking God’s Pleasure. That God be pleased with us is the real capital of our lives and it is to win this pleasure that everything should be sacrificed. In the words of the Qur’an: “Surely my prayers and my sacrifice, my life and my death is for God alone, the Lord of the Universe.”

In the modern age, the pilgrims, when they start their journey to Makkah for performing Hajj with only two white sheets on their bodies leaving behind their wives, children, kith and kin and their wealth and properties, they practically exemplify their act of sacrifice for the love of God.

Hajj is the greatest training and practical demonstration of the spirit of sacrifice and the spirit of Jihad in the way of God. It shows that Islam does not end with giving some utopian ideals for the human life. It is not only a religion, it is the guidance for the whole mankind to shape their lives in this world and hereafter. That’s why God makes provision for the teaching and training of humankind in every quality through practical implementation.