By Zubair Khan (Croatia)
The word Hajj means “to intend a journey” which connotes both the outward act of a journey and the inward act of intentions. The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims which must be carried out at least once in lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey. It is one of the five pillars of Islam. The gathering during Hajj is considered the largest annual gathering of people in the world. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Allah).
According to my understanding, in current era any one intends performing Hajj is confronted with three aspects. First, the spiritual taste, second the treatment of the tour operator through which the journey is executed and third one the organizational and administrative arrangements ensured by KSA government. Spiritual taste of hajj depends on the individual piety and taqwa. Stay during Hajj mainly depends on the arrangement made by tour operators. However the arrangements formulated by KSA government affect each individual. Merely by Blessings of God, this year undersigned got the opportunity to perform Hajj. It was my second visit to Holy cities of Mecca and Medina. I do not intend expressing the spiritual experience of Hajj as it varies with each individual and exclusively private thing. Stay arrangements vary as each tour operator charges money and offers various facilities. Some are very good while few do not care much about their clients. In following appraisal an effort has been made only to evaluate how the KSA government organizationally and administratively handled Hajj 2014. However these are purely my own observations and does not necessarily mean others also agree with these. Aim is to draw the attention of KSA authorities as to enabling them to improve where ever slackness prevails.
1. Standard of Cleanliness in Medina and its surrounding. No doubt the cleanliness at Masjid Nabwi is excellent. However large number of guests visits Masjid Qubaa, Uhad Mountain, Jannatul Baqee and other surroundings. Existence of filth at all these places damages the very basics that cleanliness is essential part of Islamic faith. Anyone can visit the public toilets at all places to see how dirty things are. Small attention to this aspect can improve the situation.
2. Old Vintage Vehicles. Mostly people fly to Jeddah and Medina by air. Later transported by buses to Mecca. Majority buses owned by government and private companies are of old vintage. To cover few hundred km these buses require many hours. Vehicles get heated up thus parts of the buses get damaged and guests are left at the mercy of these transporters. Any one complaining is silenced on the name of religious motivation that on Hajj one has to show tremendous patience. KSA is wealthy country and is proud to offer quality services to guests of Allah. Suffice to quote my experience I travelled 400 km from Median to Mecca in 13 hours with two interruptions. First the air conditioned system failed and took many hours to replace the bus and secondly the Egyptian driver was not willing to drive the buss more than 30 km per hour on Motorway without any reason. Hajj department responsible for transport may consider improving the prevailing Situation.
3. King Abdul Aziz Complex Tower. From last couple of years the big tower of Waqaf project of King Abdul Aziz is dominating the Haram complex. All minarets of Holy Mosque look very tiny in its presence. Kaaba itself has been hidden in the huge shopping center and hotel buildings surrounding the house of Allah. During the construction the big tower caught three times fire but due to influential monarch the project continued. To create more space for Twwaf of Kaaba instead expanding outward on ground level, floors are constantly been added. New floors are much higher than the Kaaba and one cannot see downwards. Hajjis on these floors do make Twwaf but without having any feeling or sight of the house of Allah. Religious scholars should also ponder on this point. Huge shopping complex dominating the house of Allah from King Fahad and King Abdul Aziz Gates has also diminished the spirit of Hajj. People get out of holy mosque and find themselves in these huge shopping centers thus damaging the basic instinct of Hajj. Currently it is transforming more of business rather than spiritual event. International Islamic Community must also examine this situation.
4. Attitude of Duty Personnel. Currently Haram Police, Military and Haram Dawa Irshad employees control the discipline in house of Allah. Team is 100% Arabic speaking. Routine attitude of duty personnel is extremely harsh with guests of Allah. Loud speaking and aggressive attitude further adds to the fear of guests. There seems to be an urgent need of training to raise the ethical and behavioral attitude of duty personnel. Use of mobile by those on duty further compounds the behavioral problem. Standing on sentry post to control the moving trails leading to Al Jamaraat even ignored their duty and kept on fondling with mobiles. Use of mobile while on duty and especially in uniform must be banned. Sign posting and guidance of guests also needs lot of improvement.
5. Lack of spiritual Melody. Compared to 2006 when I visited Mecca, currently Moaazans and Imamus Slat appointed in house of Allah lack spiritual melody in Azan and recitation of Holy Quraan. KSA is full of good and melodious pitches. Those responsible to select people for these appointments should pay attention to this aspect also.
6. Catastrophe in tunnels surrounding House of Allah. Administration constructed tunnels all around holy mosque to ease the traffic flow. Lack of motor sense and traffic rules implementation created chaos in all the days of Hajj. Each tunnel has three lanes. Due to lack of control, five lanes created in each tunnel plus permission to pedestrians to cross on foot added to the miseries of all hajjis. Everywhere one could see chaos and guests of Allah in miserable conditions.
7. Lack of public utility services in Mina and Modzalfa. Compared to the number of guests the public utility services are inadequate. Modzalfa sector 3 housed thousands of guests on night of 9th Zilhijja with only one toilet facility resulting in to chaos and miseries for the hajjis. Few weak and old were clearly cursing the authroties for neglecting these basic facilities
8. Lack of centralized control in Arafat. Sermon in Arafat is considered to be the pivotal point of Hajj. No one knew what happened in Nimrah Mosque. Each tour operator in own tent delivered own Khutba advocating and conversing own hajj business. There is an urgent need that Arafat sermon system to be centralized and various places earmarked for sermon be provided the copy of the main Hajj Khutba.
9. Lack of Check on Tour Operators. Currently various tour operators arrange Hajj event. Each play differently with its clients. Some stuff 6 persons in double rooms. Few ignore food. Few force the guests to walk on foot. Accommodation in area Azizia is worst. Whole area stinks due to closure of gutters. Very narrow roads blocked with various types of vehicles. Buses ply in narrow streets and add further to chaos. KSA government official need to pay attention on this important apect.
Above are few observations in most precise fashion. It is said healthy mind and body can concentrate better for worship. Hajj basically is worship which can be executed much better if responsible authorities can ensure coordial and conducive atmosphere. It is expected that with passage of time the authorites will pay attention on the observations made in this analysis.
Note by Editor: Since Br Rafik covers Haram projects extensively may comment to the observations made by me.