Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Post-Hajj Debrief Meeting 2015 at UK Parliament

Post-Hajj Debrief Meeting 2015

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Hajj is a spiritual act; it is an act of worship. It is a relation between the pilgrim and his Creator, Allah the Almighty. Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. So, besides other factors and aspects of Hajj, the most important aspect is that it is worship; it is an act of worship. Once the pilgrim puts Ihram and leaves for the Hajj, it is, religiously speaking, he started his spiritual journey and as soon as he reaches Makkah, the Masjid al-Haram, he declares and announces Labbaika Allahuma Labbaik which means; I am here, I am here and I am declaring that You are One and You have no partner. So Hajj is basically an act of worship wherein there is no country, no politics is involved; it is a relationship between pilgrim and his Creator, Allah the Almighty.

Even Allah the Almighty said in the Holy Qur’an the basic rules of Hajj. Allah says, “The pilgrimage is in the appointed months. Whoever intends to perform it during them must abstain from indecent speech, from all wicked conduct, and from quarrelling while on the pilgrimage. Whatever good you may do, God is aware of it.” (Al-Qur’an, 2:197). Allah also says, “Help one another in goodness and in piety. Do not help one another in sin and transgression. Fear God! God is severe in punishment” (Al-Qur’an, 5:2)

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia every year before the Hajj called on the pilgrims to keep away from partisan and politics. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz Alsheikh called on pilgrims to perform Hajj in a proper way, observe tranquillity and calm and avoid chaos and obscenity. Al-Asheikh also urged Hajjis to keep away from partisan and sectarian slogans.

As I mentioned Hajj is a religious act, politics should not be brought into it. Whatever happened in Mina, the Saudi authorities have already set up an enquiry commission to investigate the causes and find out the real issue behind the incident. Meanwhile, spreading rumours, speculate all sorts of wrong or misinformation will create more problems rather than help to resolve issues.

Please think positively and intelligently and ponder upon the positive aspects: improvement of the Holy sites and the Hajj facilities since 1976. I had the opportunity this year, 2015, to meet and talk to those celebrities who performed Hajj in the 70s, 80s and this year in 2015 and according to them revolutionary changes took place in the Holy sites, such as in Mataf, Masaa, Mina, Arafat and Jamarat. (please see; and )

Haramain expanded; increasing the capacity of pilgrims; Masaa is doubled and wider; Mataf is expanded. Permanent fire-proof tent in Mina; toilet facilities and other public services. Jamarat is made the safest place by making it fifth floor linked with roads to each floor.

Hajj Debrief Meeting 2015
Recently, there are two meetings took place on the Hajj issue after the Hajj. One was Hajj Debriefing 2015, organised by the Council of British Hajjis (CBH) UK in partnership with the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC), London, was held at the Committee Room no. 12 of the House of Commons, on Wednesday, 28 October, 2015. It was sponsored by the Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi, Member of Parliament from Bolton. It was attended by pilgrims, Hajj & Umrah tour operators, academics, MPs and Peers from both the Houses of Parliament. Besides Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP, the sponsor of the meeting, there were Baroness Uddin, Ms. Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP from Birmingham Ladywood among others.

Yasmin Qureshi, MP
While introducing the meeting, Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said, “I think everyone here knows the importance of Hajj for the Muslims. All Muslims want to make it in their lifetime at least once. I am sure everybody in this room must be struck by the sadness of what happened recently not only those who died or injured therefore this meeting is really becomes in a very crucial time. We know there are many people going to Hajj from this country. I think about thousands British people travelling to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage.”

Speaking about the facilities during Hajj, Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said, “Whenever you are going around Masjid al-Haram there was always plenty of cold water to drink. They never run out. It is a matter of how many hundreds and thousands people go to the Masjid al-Haram, the water never run out. If you think about the water, the water is not run out. And secondly, recently because of what happened in Mina few constituents was worried.”

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi who sponsored the event thanked the Ambassador of the Saudi Embassy in the United Kingdom for their hard work in swiftly processing pilgrim visas especially during the tragic incidents which took place at Hajj this year. She also thanked Saudi Arabia to set up and facilitate inquiry quickly and immediately.

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi also mentioned about her experience of Hajj which she performed in 1994.

Besides, Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP, the meeting was addressed by Lord Adam Patel, the leader of the British Hajj Delegation, Ms. Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP from Birmingham Ladywood, Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan, the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London and Rashid Mogradia, the Chief Executive of the Council of British Hujjaj (CBH) UK.  

Lord Adam Patel
Lord Adam Patel has been involved in Hajj pilgrimage in some way or the other for over forty years now; his first Hajj was in 1971. Lord Patel said, “In those days there was very little help and advice available. We relied entirely on the person arranging the Hajj with very few details available in advance.”

British Hajj Delegation (BHD), of which Lord Adam Patel is the chairman. Speaking about the work of the BHD, Lord Patel mentioned, “The core official work of the British Hajj Delegation is in the provision of medical support to British and other Hujjaj in Makkah and Mina whilst they have travelled out there to perform their Hajj. In addition to the nine doctors, including female doctors with their Mahrams, who give their services for free as well.”

Lord Patel said, “British Hajj Delegation is a unique project. There are many countries with much larger Muslim populations, such as the United States, France and Germany, yet they do not provide their citizens with this same level of free support.”

Speaking about the Holy sites and Hajj facilities, Lord Patel mentioned, “About two/three million people come to perform Hajj and Saudi government is doing the excellent job providing the medical care. In Mina with so many people around now the Saudi Ministry of Hajj gave the British Hajj Delegation four tents to look after the patients.”

Lord Patel also said, “Looking after the estimated 20,000 Pilgrims from the UK and the estimated 3 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 cast your mind back to a few years ago our Great City of London proudly hosted the Olympic and Paralympics games. So much planning went into that and the disruption to daily routine that was caused for laying on such an event.”

Lord Patel also mentioned, “I was always impressed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in how it constantly meets challenges that the Hajj presents. Not only that, but how eager it is to serve the Guests of Almighty Allah, by continuously improving the infrastructure for Hajjis. To name a few examples recently; there is the work to expand the Haramain area, the work to increase capacity at both Jeddah and Madinah Airports and the building of a new train line serving Mina and also soon Makkah to Madinah.”

Lord Patel paid tributes and praised personally His Excellency His Royal Highness  Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the Ambassador and his officials in the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in London for their unrelenting support to the British Hujjaj over the years. He requested the representative of the Royal Saudi Embassy to please convey his message to His Excellency the Saudi Ambassador.

Commanding the works and activities of the Islamic Cultural Centre, Lord Patel said, “The outstanding organisations I have met like the Council of British Hujjaj and the Islamic Cultural Centre all share one key characteristic: an absolute passion to raise standards for those performing Hajj. They have been restless for improvements, and they are always looking for the next challenge. They rarely accept the status quo and they have taken on entrenched attitudes in areas such as Hajj fraud, where it was deemed too complex to take on, and given it a good seeing to.”

Dr. Ahmed Al-Dubayan
Speaking about the meeting on Hajj and the gathering, Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan, Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre and the Regents Park London Central Mosque, said, “I think it is very important here to get together to talk about Hajj. Hajj is very important; it reminds you something about; it is not only a matter of industry or business; it is, first of all, it is worship. As we all know it is the fifth pillar of Islam. It’s very important and it is a duty for every Muslim once in his lifetime. At the same time, of course, tour operators have their right of business sending people and facilitating this chance for Muslims to do this worship. At the same time, there is also a social factor of Hajj; there is a social side of it for the Muslim community.”

Dr. Al-Dubayan also said, “We watch this from the Islamic Cultural Centre and Regents Park London Central Mosque.  It is enough to say that all these years we have 95,000 who went for Hajj and we have 65,000 who went for Umrah from the United Kingdom and also many families linked together; they go together or they celebrate before or after. Of course; it is not only a worship; it is also more social occasion where people come together and really they celebrate and there are, of course, lots of traditions based on which community they belong to.”

“In the beginning, I would like to express my thanks to right honourable Lord Patel really who served all these years, took the Hajj delegation. We are really so proud about the services they have done for more than 10 years and the Islamic Cultural Centre was, for sometime, secretary of the British Hajj Delegation;  till of course, 2010 it was  stopped from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and then Lord Patel of course insisted on continuing this service because Muslim community really needs it. And needed and it is working till today. Alhamdo lillah. I am really, on behalf of myself and I am sure everybody here, would like to say thank you to him, to the Hajj Delegation and to the doctors who always accompanied him in this journey,” mentioned Dr. al-Dubayan.

Then Dr. Al-Dubayan addressed the issue of tour operators, agencies and firms. He said, “Let me take advantage of this occasion to talk to the tour operators and to the agencies: we are here, I believe today, I really to be united and really to address the problems together and not to be scattered. We, at the Islamic Cultural Centre, Centre, Muslims and Mosques; we are not actually going to take the place of the tour operators or something but really we are helping you to make this journey safe, and to make it even better in your performance.”

Speaking about the role of the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) vis-à-vis the Muslim Community and the Hajj related matters, Dr. Al-Dubayan mentioned, “One thing which is very important, i.e.  Islamic Cultural Centre is for the whole community as a place where people come to it. We are too much linked to Hajj in many ways. First of all, we are making awareness programme about the Hajj itself; secondly that is all those problems sometimes with agencies, with tour operators; come to us, to the ICC and even some complications come from the Hajj itself; they come also to the mosque, to us to solve them. So we are here all the time behind the scene but we are having our role.  Why; because Saudi Arabian embassy itself is a member, one of the trustees of the Islamic Cultural Centre Board of Trustees. We have direct link with the authorities so we use it always to facilitate this business for everybody. We ourselves also sent some guests sometimes.”

Addressing directly to the tour operators, Dr. al-Dubayan said, “I really urge the tour operators, the agencies and the firms; please remember always above all the commitment that you have to show in this business. The commander just talked about the fraud and he said 138,000 this year. Commitment is really the success of this business. The problem he just said not fraud in the business but it is also related to the worship, to Islam.  It is also related to Islam, worship; someone really tricked it something like this something it is really painful; not painful, it is very very painful; not because of the money but because of psychological effect, his heart, because it is a worship itself; imagining you are going to a mosque and someone is going to prevent you; stopping you on the way and try to stop. So it is really important.”

Dr. al-Dubayan also mentioned, “We know also one of the thing we are really doing you know unfortunately the Muslim community always with every season there are always a season for rumours and wrong information for really spreading all these sometimes by the community, by the individuals by some individuals by some even companies wrong information; they come to us we investigated and found it is wrong information, these things are really very very dangerous, commitment to your clients, meeting their expectations actually. When you promise something, dear tour operators really committed to it. First of all, this is our ethics as Muslims; this is actually real thing of the business itself, Muslims or not Muslims. It is very important.”

While concluding his speech at the meeting, Dr. al-Dubayan said, “In this context, I have to pay my sympathy and condolence, of course, for the families of the victims who fell in the last season and we admire so much the role that the Saudi authorities are doing by expansion and doing really the services and all the services they are paying. I hope, from this point, from today, we can; we can have a new start for a new service, and better performance from the agencies, from the Islamic centres who are involved  in this kind of worship. It is really very important to remember the spiritual side of it, not the business side of it. That’s very important.”

Commander Chris Greany
Commander Chris Greany from the City of London Police reaffirmed his forces commitment in tackling Hajj Fraud.

Shabana Mahmood, MP
Ms. Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP from Birmingham Ladywood, said, her father was a civil engineer in Saudi Arabia and she performed Hajj along with her father when she was just three years old. She mentioned, “I have a very personal emotional connection with all Hajjis.  Hajj is central tenet of Islam.”

Rashid Mogradia
Rashid Mogradia, Chief Executive of the Council of British Hajjis said, “the Council will work tirelessly this season to ensure contingencies are in place for British Pilgrims by lobbying our Government to support British nationals during Hajj as in previous years and just as other nationalities do the same for their citizens.”

“Whilst the Saudi Authorities are doing an excellent job, we must ensure British pilgrims and tour operators alike play their part and be aware of their own responsibilities, this is why the Council of British Hajjis will focus further in educating pilgrims prior to departure,” he said.

Mogradia also thanked HRH Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf, the Consul Mr. Bandar Al-Zaid at the Saudi Embassy in London and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz for services offered to the thousands of British pilgrims.

Mogradia mentioned, “We have witnessed first hand the dedication and services provided to pilgrims and these have improved year on year and we look forward to seeing further improvements namely the grand expansion of Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah and Masjid Al-Nabawi in Madina, all of which looks to increase pilgrim numbers.”

Post-Hajj Meeting 2015
There was another meeting entitled Post-Hajj event, organised by the Association of British Hujjaj (ABH), a national charity organisation, was held at the Committee Room no. 3A of the House of Lords on Monday, the 26th of October 2015. It was sponsored by Lord Ahmed of Rotherham.

Lord Ahmed
While introducing the event, Lord Ahmed said, “Normally the ABH has always organised meetings of Hujjaj before they leave for Hajj and also when they come back. On this particular occasion because of the accident in Mina it is important to look back, have report and also to see how we can improve and also do something about that.”  Besides Lord Ahmed, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, OBE; Nusrat Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden and Khaled Parvez, Secretary of the Association of British Hujjaj (ABH) also spoke on this occasion. 

The Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK [ABH], a national charity working for welfare and wellbeing of British Hajj Umrah pilgrims expresses its deepest sorrow and sadness for the incident which took place in Mina during this year’s Hajj.

Lawyer Farhan Khaled, on behalf of ABH, said, The incident occurred “despite of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spending millions of dollars on improving infrastructure to facilitate Hajj arrangements and to ensure the safety and comfort of millions of pilgrims from around the World.”

He mentioned, one of the major contributory factors which emerged out of this incident “was ignorance and lack of awareness of health and safety risks amongst pilgrims. Pilgrims did not have the understanding of precautionary measures that should have been taken to avoid creating this type of accident.”

Q & A Session
Immediately after the presentation of the Report, there was a Q&A session. In the Q&A session, this writer, Dr. Mozammel Haque, took the floor and mentioned his experience of Hajj this year. He said, Hajj is a spiritual act; it is a spiritual journey. Hajj is a relationship between the pilgrim and his Creator, Allah the Almighty. Hajj is a worship; it is the fifth pillar of Islam. As Hajj is a religious matter, a spiritual one; it should not be mixed up with politics, partisan and sectarian things.

He also mentioned, Hajj is a unique world assemblage, world congress of people believed in one religion, Islam and the pilgrims are gathered together with the same dress only for the pleasure of their Creator and with no other purpose and objective. There is no comparison in the world of this nature of gathering. It should be looked at from that perspective and not from the worldly perspective, from the political motive or political angle.

Dr. Haque also pointed out that it is too early to say anything about the incident or make any suggestions or speculations about the causes. He said, I was present there in Mina, near the Masjid al-Khaif, near the Mina Emergency Hospital. People should not speculate; should not belief in wrong information or spread rumours. He pointed out that the government of Saudi Arabia has set up an inquiry commission to investigate the whole thing and they should wait till the report is published.

Maulana Sher Khan Jamil from Birmingham who recited the Qur’an at the beginning of the event pointed out that nothing happened for the last ten years because of the development and improvement of the facilities in the Holy sites.

After the Q&A session, the main discussion on other topics took place.

UK Legislation and Pilgrims Plight
Farhan Khaled mentioned about the violation of UK Legislation and British Hajj/Umrah Pilgrims Plight. He said, “Hajj/ Umrah pilgrimage is very close to the heart of nearly 3 million people in the UK and travelling to perform pilgrimage holds extremely high significance - it is considered as a journey of a lifetime for Pilgrims. However corruption and malpractice by travel operators has caused extreme devastation; mental anguish and trauma, not only to the pilgrims themselves but to their extended and close family network.”

Farhan Khaled said, “According to report issued by the Chairman of National Trading Standards Board, Lord Toby Harris, last year 182 business premises were inspected by Trading Standards and Police Officials nationally, out of which 147 of Hajj/Umrah package tour operators were found to be non-compliant with relevant legislation (Over 80%). This report has shocked a large number of people in the community but not ABH. We were fully aware of the deteriorating situation of the violation of the UK legislation in the Hajj and Umrah Tour industry and have been campaigning tirelessly to persuade the authorities to address the issue of widespread violation by unscrupulous tour and travel operators.”

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