Haj guides visited pilgrims’ countries in past centuries

Updated 09 October 2012
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Haj guides visited pilgrims’ countries in past centuries

The tasks carried out by members of the Tawafa Chiefs’ Organization — a body that encompasses the heads of three main pilgrim serving guides including Haj Mutawifs (those who guide pilgrims during the rituals), Zamzam distributors (the Zamazima), and agents (who receive pilgrims at crossing points and take them to their places of stay) — are one of the oldest in human history. Haj guidance historically was based on individual efforts but was developed under the Saudi state.
Guide Sheikh Darwish Ahmad Abdullah Ramadani said the profession of tawafa (which includes circumambulation guides and zamzam water providers and agents receiving and transporting pilgrims) has evolved over time. “In this age, the profession has come to grips with technological advancement and has benefited from it on a practical level,” he said. “This flexibility has resulted in workers gaining considerable experience in the field of developing services introduced for pilgrims.”
In the past, Haj guides used to travel individually to pilgrims’ countries where they provided people with the information needed for pilgrimage and promote themselves to be chosen as agents to host them and take care of their affairs upon their arrival. “The government then ordered the establishment of the Haj Tawafa Organization aiming to unite the efforts to serve pilgrims and for the profession to be a collective work that aims mainly to provide them with the highest level of service possible.”
The tawafa profession in the Saudi reign has gone through four stages. The first can be described as the one of expansion where guides would travel to pilgrims’ countries. The second is characterized by a decision to allow guides to work with all nationalities instead of one. The third stage is the implementation of the quota system for guides and the fourth is institutionalizing the practice.
The fourth phase witnessed transforming the work from an individualistic effort to a collective one through organizations that encompass all guides, with each organization being concerned with one nationality. This happened in 1978 when a Royal Decree was issued and included the Minister of Haj’s directives to regulate the licensing for commercial-regulation based guidance organizations.
The six Tawafa organizations that are present today began acquiring licenses; first, the Turkish and European, American and Australian Pilgrims (Tawafa) Organization in 1980, South Asian Pilgrims Organization and Iranian Pilgrims Organization in 1982, South Eastern Asian Countries Pilgrims Organization and non-Arab African Countries Pilgrims Organization in 1983 and Arab Pilgrims Organization in 1984.
Historians differ on when the practice of tawafa began as a profession.
Guide Abdullatif Muhammad Azizalrahman said tawafa is an honor God has bestowed on Makkah’s people. “It is a dated job which began as a practice (not a job) and can be traced to the days of the Prophet (peace be upon him), who had appointed his companion Abu Bakr as Haj emir. Since then, certain families in Makkah have been inheriting the practice which has since become an official profession,” he said.
According to Azizalrahman, history books state that the practice became a profession when Mamluke Sultan Qaitbay (1468-1496) appointed someone from among the Makkans as a “mutawwif”. A mutawwif would complete the rituals with the pilgrims while reciting circumambulation prayers and supplications.
“Tawafa organization members (guides or agents receiving pilgrims and Zamzam men) serve the pilgrims from arrival to departure. They follow up with their daily affairs including food and transportation between holy sites. Their tasks include religious guidance.
Mutawwif Waleed Abdulrahman is one such native who inherited the practice from his father. “As a child growing up in a Makkan house, I used to hear pilgrims’ supplications. When I reached the age of 10, I started working as a guide. My father used to travel to India and stay there for months to bring pilgrims. At the time, pilgrims were hosted at our house where my mother and sisters would cook and feed them.”
Women committees at these organizations have also contributed effectively to serving pilgrims. They have held many programs and events including lectures and organized visits for women pilgrims to historic sites, museums and projects such as the King’s Zamzam project and the Grand Mosque Library.


Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

Updated 11 min 7 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

  • They start their engines and hit the roads throughout the Kingdom
  • End of driving ban is crowning achievement so far of Saudi Vision 2030

Women throughout Saudi Arabia waited for the stroke of midnight, turned the keys in the ignition, fired up their engines — and hit the road to a bright new future.

It was the moment they had waited for since King Salman issued the royal decree on September 26, 2017, to lift the driving ban on women. 

Just after midnight on Saturday and in the first minutes of Sunday, Samah Algosaibi grabbed the keys to her family’s 1959 Corvette C1 and drove out of the driveway of her beach house in Khobar.
“We are witnessing history in the making as we look toward the dawn of a promising future,” said Algosaibi, the first female board member of Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Bros.

“As a businesswoman in Saudi Arabia, I am grateful for the women’s empowerment movement taking place. Today, I am honored to be sitting behind the wheel of change.”

Another woman to hit the road after midnight was Lina Almaeena, a member of the Saudi Shoura Council. “It feels very liberating,” she said about driving her mother’s Lexus.
Almaeena, also the co-founder and director of Jeddah United Sports Co, had exchanged her UAE license for a Saudi one. 

“I am thrilled!” Sarah Alwassia, 35, a nutritionist in Jeddah, told Arab News. “I learnt how to drive 18 years ago in the States where I got my driving license. I can’t believe that the day to drive in my own home town has come.”

Alwassia obtained her first American license when she was 18 years old in 2000, and had it exchanged for a Saudi license on June 6 in Jeddah. She explained that she is a mother, and this change provided comfort for her and her family. It also comes with various benefits, such as taking quick action in emergencies, and economic benefits such as saving money instead of paying for a driver when she needs to run errands. 

“I will be driving my kids to school and picking them up in comfort and privacy,” she said.

Women in the Kingdom commented on how this event is changing the course of their lives. “Independence is a huge thing for me,” Alwassia said. “Driving is one small part of it. I am very optimistic of the change that our loving country has made.”  

Alwassia applauds the efforts the country has made to support women. “I am confident that driving in the beginning will be pleasant, since our country has made all of the effort to support women and to protect them.
“I think our society was looking forward for this change, and I am sure the majority will adapt fast.

“I feel safe, our country did everything to make this transition pleasant and safe for every woman behind the wheel. I am really thankful to witness this historic moment and I am so happy for all the women in Saudi Arabia, especially my daughters.”
Sahar Nasief, 64, a retired lecturer from the European languages and Literature Department at King Abdulaziz University, said: “Nothing could describe my feelings. I can't wait to get on the road.”
Nasief received a very special gift from Ford for this occasion.

“They gave me a 2018 Expedition to drive for three days, a Mustang California Special,” she told Arab News.

Nasief obtained her Saudi license on June 7. She also holds a British license and two American licenses. “Now, I have my national license too,” she said. 

She also said the lifting of the ban provided a sense of relief. “I feel that I can practice one of my rights, and I don't have to live at the mercy of my driver any more.”
Society has been demanding such a change for years, “as it will take the physical and economic burden off most men.”
Pointing to the anti-harassment law, Nasief said: “I feel very confident especially after announcing the strict harassment law.”
Joumana Mattar, 36, a Jordanian interior designer, exchanged her Jordanian driver’s license and obtained a Saudi one on June 11. 

“I had my Jordanian license since I was 18 years old, and the moment I heard about the opening of exchanging foreign licenses, I immediately booked an appointment,” she said.
Mattar said she looks forward to the change in so many ways. “I'm finally in control of my time, schedule and privacy.” 

Mattar said she is both confident and anxious about the event. “I'm anxious only for feeling that I'm part of a huge first step for women driving in the Kingdom, but I'm confident also because of the support that I'm getting from my husband and family.
“Every first step is the hardest. Society is facing a huge change, but I'm positive because this change is done and supported by the government and Vision 2030.”

Mattar said she feels secure now. “I'm in control of any case I'm facing.”

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