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What the Pilgrims say about Hajj 2011
21st December 2011


British Muslim Guests at Madina

There is no question or doubt that Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and every able body who can afford financially must perform Hajj. Now the world population, particularly the Muslim population is increasing; consequently the number of pilgrims will increase. It is a fact that the area of Holy sites, such as Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifah and Makkah is fixed. I think it is another wonder of the world that millions of people moved in a constrained place in a constrained timeframe. Similarly, it is another wonder to manage a gathering of four and a half million pilgrims moving at the same time from one place to another place within that small area and to arrange for them adequate transportation, accommodation and feeding.

No doubt, the pilgrims are the guests of Allah the Almighty. Allah supports the cause and that's why, it is going smoothly. Of course, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the people of Saudi Arabia have left no stone unturned to bring ease and comfort to the pilgrims through building roads, infrastructure and expansion of the Haramain. Let us see how the pilgrims who went to perform Hajj this year feel and what are their opinions, views and experience about Hajj in 2011. Irrespective of position, status, geographical affiliation, I interviewed pilgrims from the president of a country to the common man, belonging to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Uganda and the United Kingdom.

General (Retired) H.M. Ershad
Former President of Bangladesh

Former President of Bangladesh, General (Retired) H.M. Ershad, present chairperson of Jatiya Party said, "I have not heard any complain from anybody. All the Hajjis are so happy; they are so well look after and the medical facilities, water arrangement and the evacuation of casualties in case of accident was wonderful. I feel that the Saudi authorities tried heart and soul to look after every individual who has come and joined this Hajj."

Former President Ershad said, "I actually on my behalf and on behalf of Bangladeshi congratulate the King Abdullah and the people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for this achievement, wonderful achievement.

Dr. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali
Prime Minister of Somalia

I met the Prime Minister of Somalia, Dr. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, who came for the first time in Saudi Arabia. This is his first Hajj. He said, "It's a life chance experience and I enjoyed it. The facilities are great; absolutely fabulous. I think the Saudi government has learnt and they perfected how to manage chaos. I think even for the US, to manage three million people at one time in small area is tough."

Somali Prime Minister also said, "I think we are very thankful to the Saudi government for providing all this facilities to us, really they are real Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Really they are and I think Allah meant to put this religion in this place for good reasons and I think they did a good job."

Mr. Uthman Serengi
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Uganda
I met Mr. Uthman Serengi, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Uganda. This is his first Hajj. But his father made Hajj some time back. Speaking about his father's experience of Hajj, Mr. Uthman said, "At Jamarat my father found such a nightmare for him. Of course, I know sometime back there was dead there. So this time I was also expecting problems but Alhamdo Lillah, it was such a small exercise I went through the Jamarat quite easily and then the staying at Mina was good. Alhamdo Lillah, the facilities at Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat are quite good."

Mr. Uthman observed, ".I have seen thousands and thousands of people using the rail. It was really wonderful. The rail was quite spectacular. I was seeing every two minutes train was passing by and it was quite good particularly during Arafat and I am sure the pilgrims have found it very useful. My wife was also doing for the first time and she also said she is extremely happy and elated about the experience. Insha Allah we will do this again."

Mr. Uthman also said, "The transportation was great; was very yuppie, very befitting, in fact we are flattered and humbled by the treatment we have been given, we just prayed to Allah to reward them abundantly for everything they have accorded to us."

"We have an excellent Hajj. We just are praying to Allah to reward King Abdullah and the people of Saudia with good health and long life so that they can look after more and more pilgrims, Jazakamullah jazah," said Mr. Uthman

Lord Sheikh
Peer, House of Lords, British Parliament

I met Lord Mohammed Altaf Sheikh, Peer of the House of Lords, who performed Hajj three times and two Umrahs before. Lord Sheikh believes that Hajj is just like going for Jihad; it's a test; it is test of ones ability to respond to issues which are not very comfortable."

Speaking about Hajj 60/70 years before, Lord Sheikh mentioned, "My mother used to tell me that my grandmother came on Hajj. I don't know 60/70 years ago and at that time she was living in Kenya; so she travelled from Kenya, went to Sudan and came by boat from Sudan to Jeddah and it was very very difficult."

, Speaking about his own experience when he came for the first time, Lord Sheikh said, "I personally enjoy the first Hajj because when you come here for the first time you see the Ka'aba Sharif in front of you that is a rare real experience. At that time if you look at the Haram Sharif, the area around Haram Sharif was not doubled; there was very few quality hotels; for example, the floor of Safa Marwah was not cool; but now if you go you will see it is very cool at the moment but at the Bibi Hazera's time it was quite different, it was open, it was quite two hills and of course it was very open."

Speaking about the differences, Lord Sheikh said, "certainly there are differences now. There are more hotels now. Life is a little bit easy; even for people who can afford it. But people who cannot afford it undoubtedly, they would not be staying at international hotel, they would stay five six people seven or eight people in one room, where inadequate washing facilities."

Baroness Uddin
Baroness of House Lords, British Parliament

I also met Baroness Uddin who came with her husband to perform her first Hajj this year but she performed her first Ummah 12 years ago. Speaking about her Hajj experience, Baroness Uddin said, "I had seen so many pictures of Hajj and I had also seen Hajj transmitted live on Television. But nothing comparing witnessing with your own eyes and feeling of being in this place nothing is comparable."

"The kingdom has made the journey as easy as possible. We have seen hundreds and hundreds of men and women and many with families incredibly brave walking on the streets but I have seen no hardship in their face. This is due to the facilities provided by the Kingdom," said Baroness Uddin and added, "Facilities are immensely immeasurable. I could not have imagined until I have seen it."

She also said, "I believe no other country on earth manages this level of flow of people from different countries, from different continents and different backgrounds."

Mr. Shahid Malik
Former British Minister

I met the former British Justice Minister, Mr. Shahid Malik, who is performing Hajj this year. This is his second Hajj. He said, "The progresses are incredible. If you look at the Monorail transport system, it is amazing. When I came it was steel concrete on the ground and now it is functioning and the people are using it."

Former British Minister also said, "I think each year there is massive progress. I think the credit must go to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah and his leadership on this issue. King Abdullah said, don't call me Majesty, call me the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. I think that's say a lot about his commitment on this issue. It said a lot to the outside world, to the Muslim world about this issue and you can see it in the investment taking place."

Mr. Malik observed, "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 10/15 years time, Insha Allah, will be incredibly different from what you know the biggest investment in mainline railway structure which will connect Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah etc. You are also seeing massive massive home building programme that is taking place and massive expansion of the Haram."

Mr. Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko
Governor of the State of Sokoto, Nigeria

I met the Governor of the state of Sokoto, Nigeria, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, during the last ten days of last Ramadan. He is a regular visitor to the Haram during Ramadan. So when I met him this time during Hajj, I enquired about his Hajj. Governor Aliyu said, "Alhamdo Lillah, I am so happy that the arrangement is so unique and so comprehensive that I must commend the Kingdom for such organisation because it goes to show that the Kingdom is doing a lot for the Muslims the world over."

This year about 7,000 people came from the state of Sokoto alone and 100,000 from Nigeria this year. Governor Aliyu said, "Alhamdo Lillah people are so comfortable and lots of improvements from the previous Hajj as mentioned by many pilgrims came this year. Previously, the tent ruined, the Jamarat was a hell, but this year it is so simple, it is made easier, simpler and more comfortable. Even at Jamarat, people moved pillar to pillar easily. Allah accepts our Hajj."

Governor Aliyu also observed, "Let me tell you the Kingdom is doing a lot to show that we are all God's guests to the Holy Land. We were well received, well-treated and well-served, best of their ability. The problem of hosting millions of people at a particular time and moment I must commend the Kingdom, not many countries in this world, can do this, over three/four million guests at one time. Giving an adequate transportation, accommodation, feeding is a really wonderful job. Alhamdo Lillah, God supports the cause; that's why we have a heat-free pilgrimage this year and equally I must repeat my recommendation to the Kingdom to its resources and to all people in this year's Hajj. The jobs are well-done."

General Tan Sri Dato Sri Zulkifeli bin Mohd Zin
Chief of the Defence Force, Malaysia

I met the chief of the Defence Force of Malaysia, General Tan Sri Dato Sri Zulkifeli bin Mohd Zin, who performed Umrah a couple of times before, in 2007 and 2009 but this is his first Hajj. He recollected what his parents used to say: "My late parents had performed Hajj six or seven times. The process they have gone through was tedious as opposed to the present day. The story my late parents told me about their experience performing the Hajj and from my own personal experience, I could say that there is a vast difference now; because the infrastructure was very well developed. It is now more convenient and more efficient."

General Sri Zulkifeli said, "Now the infrastructure at Jamarat was very well developed by the Kingdom. That is positive development. You look at the monorail system. In times to come, the monorail from Mina to Arafat and to Muzdalifah is another positive development," Mr, Jufi said.

General Sri Zulkifeli also observed, "I think everybody is successfully able to perform their pilgrimage and at the end, everybody like me is very happy with the system, with the food, accommodation and the process I went through. This is something very great. I would like to reckon my observation to the King of Saudi Arabia for taking the trouble to ensure the development of the Holy Land and to ensure Muslims all over the world to be able to perform their Hajj efficiently and confidently."

Lt. Gen. (retired) Salauddin Satti
Ambassador of Pakistan to Brunei Darus Salam

I met Lt. Gen. (retired) Salauddin Satti who was posted after retirement in 2008 to Brunei Darussalam High Commission as an ambassador for two years and now returning back to Pakistan. Mr. Satti performed Hajj in 2006 but this time he performed Hajj along with his wife who did not perform Hajj before.

Mr. Satti said, "Lots of improvements have taken place so far as the infrastructure is concerned. In Mina itself the train system, the community system at rami (Jamarat) is phenomenon, technologically."

The number of Muslims throughout the world is increasing; naturally the number of pilgrims will increase. So the management of the pilgrims have to be considered. Mr. Satti said, "I am sure the Saudi authorities are already trying to keep pace with it and I am very much sure that the Kingdom is very much aware of it and the expansion plan of both Haram Sharif in Makkah and in the Masjid-e-Nabawi in Madinah, a lot have been done already. So it is a race and it will continue but I must acknowledge that a lot of improvement in the infrastructure and management has been taken place, I have observed personally."

Judge Abdul Malek
Shariah Court Judge, Malaysia

While I was going along with Dr. Suhaib Hasan to perform Maghreb prayer in the Masjid at the top floor of the Safa Palace Makkah, I met Judge Abdul Malek of the Shari'ah Court of Malaysia, who performed Hajj before in 2008. This is his second Hajj. He told me while discussing, "There are lot of differences; infrastructure, transportation, organisation and management of crowd at Jamarat. It is very very easy."

Diplomat, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mali
I met a diplomat from the Foreign Ministry of Mali who is very much pleased and happy to see the arrangement in the Hajj this year and who said, "It is a good opportunity for the Muslims to build bridges among the Muslim brothers."

Dr. Ehsan al-Ameen
Advisor to the President of Iraq

I met Dr. Ehsan al-Ameen, Advisor in the Office of President of Iraq who performed Hajj three times before. The last time he performed pilgrimage is about 15 years ago. Speaking about his experience of Hajj this year, Dr. al-Ameen said, "There are many differences. Every year, it is better from the last year. There is too different at Jamarat. 15 years before, only in Jamarat, 115 persons were died, you know. There were many difficulties. Now this year, I think this is the easier Hajj in the history."

Dr. Al-Ameen also said, "It is better than before, but I think it needs to complete the project the monorail programme. The walking on the road is better than the past. I remember in the past while walking many people used to sit and sleep on the street. Now I follow this point specially and I find the street is all walking. I think the police are doing good work. They guide the people to the different directions."

British Civil Servant
A young British civil servant who did his first Hajj in 2000 and wanted to remain anonymous performed Hajj this year. Comparing his experience of Hajj this year with that of previous one and the facilities, he said, "I think the facilities are phenomenal and I choose my word carefully; the first Hajj I did in 2000 and since then the facilities have been continually improved."

"The Jamarat is now the manifestation of money they have spent on safety and this is phenomenal and there is another improvement for the ease of the Hujjaj," said the young British civil servant who is in his early thirties and mentioned, "The Monorail is one classic example. I remember the conversation dated back to 2000 when I did my first Hajj: should we have a monorail? It is interesting because the cost-benefit of the Monorail is actually the cost-benefit of five days and for five days I don't know how much monorail cost but I can imagine it's nothing sort of over 700 million and 700 million for an infrastructure to be used only five days in a year, separate from testing, is a phenomenal testament how the government approaches what they wanted to do."

He also mentioned another wonderful experience and made observation. He said, "I think the part of the infrastructure must be all the people in their individual areas doing their parts. The responsibility that everyone has to bear is phenomenal and I only pray that our Ummah should have patience generally. When the people on duty tell you Ya Allah Haji, move from here.' You may not like it; you may think he can talk to me nicely or I don't speak this language, but what you don't understand the part of the mechanism is to make it better for the ten thousands Hajis down the road, you can't see and you don't know but they know and they are following."

Dr. Mozammel Haque
Media Advisor
Islamic Cultural Centre, London