Some Haj traditions lost to modernity

Updated 08 November 2013
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Some Haj traditions lost to modernity

As with any annual event that grows over time, Haj has become a complex, carefully choreographed ritual that leaves little wriggle room to include some of the simple traditions of the past.
In fact, it’s inevitable. Up until this year, about 3 million pilgrims converged in Makkah. This year it’s about 1.5 million. In 1941, it was just 24,000. In the 1960s, it might have been a couple of hundred thousand pilgrims.
But imagine a time when Makkah was virtually empty as pilgrims headed for the holy sites. And imagine the intimacy of staying in Makkah with a small group of friends, friendly strangers offering their homes for shelter and the celebrations. The modern world has been it difficult continue some of these cherished traditions.
Even receiving Zamzam water has evolved over the decades.
“There were special people for delivering Zamzam water to pilgrims’ places of residence for a fee,” recalled Fuad Nayta of Haj about 50 years ago. “Zamazmahs had a job to replace Zamzam flasks at the Holy Mosque. There was a person who prepared Zamzam in metal cans called Samkari. He’d fix metal into the shape of the cans, fill the can with Zamzam water and then seal it so pilgrims can take it back home as gifts for family and friends.”
An older Saudi, Abdullah, who performed Haj more than 50 years ago, recalled an even earlier practice. He said Zamazemahs brought Zamzam water from the well and placed it in a large pottery reservoir and then poured it into small pottery flasks to keep it cool. Delivery was made door to door and replaced daily with new cool pottery flasks. “The flasks were scented with misk incense,” he said.
Today, Haj companies perform a very structured, yet complete service for a fee that starts at about SR6,000. But Haj pilgrims once relied on Al Mutawifeen, whose job was to be responsible for one nationality of foreign pilgrims to provide housing, food and transportation.
The Mutawif personally took pilgrims to Al-Haram, Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina before returning them to Makkah. Mutawifeen were a family business handed down from one generation to another. The same family took care of the same nationality year after year because they spoke the language and had become familiar with their clients’ culture.
“The Mutawif used to market his service by going to the pilgrims’ country to connect with his past clients,” one Mutawif told Arab News.
Mutawifeen would rent their entire houses to pilgrims and take rooms on another floor or move out entirely, taking their furniture with them and allowing their guests to move in rented furniture.
“The connections and relationships grew between the pilgrims and the people of Makkah,” said one elderly Makkah resident whose aunt opened her home each year to strangers.
“Pilgrims lived among us.
They mixed with the family hosting them and we exchanged cultural traditions, learned from each other and cooked together. That is why Makkah’s cuisine is so rich. They even intermarried. It was once said that a lucky girl gets married to the Mutawif’s son.”
One tradition now extinct was the celebration among women and children who stayed behind in Makkah while pilgrims trekked to the holy sites. Known then as Gais, it was celebrated by the women when men went off to perform Haj.
The shops closed and housewives baked just before Haj traditional pastries of ma’moul and ghuraibah. They would design the treats in different shapes and sizes. No house was empty.
With this newfound liberty, the women would wear costumes and some would don their husband’s thobes or even police uniforms.
“Some women wore hats and walked around their neighborhood or gather in one place singing, dancing and maybe acting,” said one older Makkah resident.
The modern world has affected the custom of Gais, especially since older neighborhoods have been replaced by hotels near the Grand Mosque,” said one Makkah resident. “However, some surviving older neighborhoods continue with Gais.”
Another celebration, gradually losing the battle against time is “jojoe,” which commemorates a child performing Haj for the first time.
A Jeddah mother recalled having jojoe when she was 7 years old. Following her Haj rituals, the family placed her in a chair and placed a veil above her head and sang songs, gave her money and threw sweets to her while the other children collected them. Some families still perform the informal ceremony. Similar ceremonies were given for teenagers as well to encourage the younger children to perform Haj when they got older.
“It was something we always looked forward to,” the mother said.


Saudi Arabia to send Syrians an additional $100 million of humanitarian aid

Updated 26 April 2018
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Saudi Arabia to send Syrians an additional $100 million of humanitarian aid

  • Total relief provided by the Kingdom since the war began now stands at about $1billion
  • Latest package announced by Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir at conference in Brussels

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia will provide an additional $100 million of humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering of the people of Syria, through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.

The announcement of the latest aid package was made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir on April 25 at an international conference on the future of Syria and the region, held in the Belgian capital Brussels. He pointed out that the meeting comes after the suspected chemical attack in the city of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, which killed dozens of civilians, including women and children.

“The world is facing a regime allied with terrorist militias who believe that spreading atrocities and committing crimes will bring victory to it, and that war crimes are bearing fruit,” said Al-Jubeir. “In addition to bombing civilians with explosive barrels, the policies of starvation and siege, ethnic and sectarian cleansing, and the demographic change of Syrian cities and towns, its use of chemical weapons have shocked the entire world.”

He said that the only acceptable solution to the Syrian crisis is a peaceful political resolution, and that Saudi Arabia has been working to achieve this since the crisis began, while also working with others to end the continuing human tragedy in the war-torn country.

The Kingdom has played a role in unifying the ranks of the Syrian opposition and encouraging them to speak with one voice, he added. After the Riyadh 1 Conference in 2015, Saudi Arabia hosted the Riyadh 2 conference for the Syrian opposition in November 2017, which succeeded in unifying the factions and establishing a negotiating body to take part in the rounds of talks held since then, earning praise from the United Nations.

The foreign minister also reiterated his country’s support for the efforts of the UN secretary-general’s envoy, Stephan de Mistura, to resume negotiations between all sides of the conflict.

“The Kingdom hopes that the agreements endorsed by the international resolutions on the ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid to its beneficiaries will be implemented throughout Syria, regardless of their ethnic, religious, sectarian or political affiliations, and calls for the speedy release of detainees and abductees and clarifying the situation of those absent,” said Al-Jubeir. “It also renews its demand to punish individuals and institutions for war crimes and to prevent their impunity.”

He added that the worsening humanitarian crisis affecting refugees inside and outside of Syria should add to the urgency of finding a political solution and resuming the negotiating process as soon as possible.

Since the war began, the Kingdom has taken in about two and a half million Syrians and treats them like its own citizens, Al-Jubeir said, providing them with free health care, work and education. Saudi universities and schools have more than 140,000 Syrian students. He added that Saudi Arabia is also supporting and helping to care for of millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, in coordination with the governments of those countries. The humanitarian assistance provided so far totals about $1 billion.