The essential steps for a healthy Hajj

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A policeman sprays pilgrims with cooling water near Al-Haram Mosque. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Air conditioned comfort in the ‘Tent City’ of Mina, near Makkah. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Pilgrims in Makkah.
Updated 10 August 2018
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The essential steps for a healthy Hajj

LONDON: Today’s Hajj pilgrims will experience unprecedented comfort compared to those of even just 20 years ago. In the last decade the Saudi government has pumped billions of dollars into providing modernized services and amenities to accommodate the millions of Muslims who make the annual pilgrimage.

But the spirit of Hajj itself remains unchanged, said Rashid Mogradia, CEO of the Council of British Hajjis (CBH).
“Everything about getting to and staying around Makkah is easier now, thanks to streamlined systems and electronic processing, but the five days of Hajj are the essence of the journey and remain authentic,” Mogradia told Arab News.
Mogradia, who has completed the Hajj journey five times himself, will join around 25,000 fellow Brits this year as he once again travels to Makkah for the ultimate spiritual journey.
“When you’re in the barren desert and wearing nothing but two pieces of cloth, you leave the creature comforts behind. This is the real Hajj experience. It is ever challenging and spiritual,” he said.

Physical preparation
As the Hajj consists of a series of physically demanding rituals, pilgrims have to be in their best physical condition. Conducted over five days, it includes rigorous exercises such as the circular, counter-clockwise procession around the Kaaba, and the symbolic stoning of evil.
Mogradia advised: “There is a lot of walking involved, so it’s important to invest in decent footwear. Once you’ve bought the footwear, make sure you walk similar distances in the new shoes before you travel to Makkah.”
Zohra Sarwari, a California-based Muslim author and coach, recommends walking long distances before the Hajj. “You should walk at least two to five miles a day,” she said.
Her words are borne of hard experience: “When we did the Hajj it was just after my daughter had been born ... I had not exercised for almost two years. I thought because I was young it would be a piece of cake for me. Boy, was I wrong.”
Although she managed to walk “most of the way” from Makkah to Mina and back, she admitted: “Let’s just say I wanted a wheelchair due to the difficulty of it all,” she said.
The international life and business coach also recommends “doing cardio and being in shape” because this will make the Hajj experience easier and more relaxing.
She added: “It’s also important to eat healthily before the trip and on the trip itself to maintain energy levels. The food is very fattening in some of the Hajj packages. Go for the lighter items, you will find it easier to perform your Hajj properly without feeling exhausted.”

Prepping mind and soul
In the words of Dr. Aslam Abdullah, resident scholar at online Muslim community IslamiCity.org, the Hajj is “more than an adventure.”
“It is a journey into self-reflection and personality development. It’s an experience that allows Hajjis to live the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. It is a journey for learning the art of sacrifice; it allows pilgrims to connect with the divine,” he said.
“Many pilgrims prepare for decades before embarking on this journey … so when they experience any hardship at Hajj, they use the endurance and strength they have built over years to overcome it.”
Sarwari emphasized being spiritually and mentally steeled. “You are there to connect to your Creator, to appreciate all that you have, and understand the purpose of this life a bit more.”
The coach said pilgrims should read books and watch videos to learn about the process of Hajj beforehand. “This is so they understand what each step means, so that they know how to perform them and appreciate why we do them,” she explained.
Sarwari also said it is important to ask people about their experiences to get their thoughts on what to do and what to avoid during the trip.
The coach added that pilgrims should “clarify their intentions” before embarking on the Hajj.
“Personally, I didn’t use the phone except to let my dad know that we got there safely. I wasn’t there to talk on the phone, or record everything. I was there to connect to my Lord,” Sarwari said.
“I wanted to make sure I prayed on time, I did my dhikr (remembrances), read the Qur’an, helped others and taught the sisters. Immerse yourself in the moment and be there. Forget about the world while you’re there.”
Mogradia said Hajj pilgrims have a “moral obligation” to bring the experience back with them and share it with their community — Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
“Hajj (pilgrims) are guests of God and they should bring that experience back to the community. The Hajj experience shows that people from all corners of the world can actually get along,” said Mogradia.


As comedian eyes presidency, Ukraine braces for uncertain future

Presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a policy debate with his rival, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (unseen), at the National Sports Complex Olimpiyskiy stadium in Kiev, Ukraine April 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 54 min 3 sec ago
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As comedian eyes presidency, Ukraine braces for uncertain future

  • Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic actor, is best known for his TV portrayal of a schoolteacher who becomes Ukrainian president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral

KIEV, Ukraine: A comedian who plays the role of Ukraine’s president on television is set to take on the job for real, pushing out the man who currently holds the office, according to public opinion surveys ahead of Sunday’s election.
Saturday was a so-called “day of quiet,” on which electioneering is forbidden, a respite from a campaign of heated statements and unexpected moments.
Dismayed by endemic corruption, a struggling economy and a five-year fight against Russia-backed insurgents in the country’s east, Ukrainian voters appear poised to strongly rebuke incumbent Petro Poroshenko and replace him with Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Despite never having held political office, Zelenskiy could get more than twice as many votes as Poroshenko, polls suggest.
Since Zelenskiy and Poroshenko advanced to Sunday’s runoff in the first round three weeks ago, the campaign has been marked by jockeying for dominance, including a dispute over holding a debate that left Poroshenko standing next to an empty lectern bearing his opponent’s name and Zelenskiy’s challenge for both of the candidates to undergo drug testing.
Zelenskiy has run his campaign mostly on social media and has eschewed media interviews; Poroshenko has called him a “virtual candidate.” Poroshenko in turn was criticized for a video linked to his campaign that showed Zelenskiy being run over by a truck.
The two finally held an actual debate on Friday evening, just hours before campaigning was to end. They harshly criticized each other and engaged in the melodrama of both kneeling to ask forgiveness of those who lost relatives in the eastern fighting.
In an unexpected move less than 10 hours before polls were to open, a Kiev court heard a suit demanding that Zelenskiy’s registration as a candidate be canceled. The court rejected the case, which was filed by the head of an organization that conducts election observation and claimed that Zelenskiy committed bribery by offering tickets to the Friday debate.
Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic actor, is best known for his TV portrayal of a schoolteacher who becomes Ukrainian president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral. The name of the show, “Servant of the People,” became the name of his party when he announced his candidacy in January.
Like his TV character, the real-life Zelenskiy has focused his campaign strongly on corruption. Although criticized as having a vague platform, Zelenskiy has made specific proposals, including removing immunity for the president, parliament members and judges, and a lifetime ban on holding public office for anyone convicted of corruption. He also calls for a tax amnesty under which someone holding hidden assets would declare them, be taxed at 5% and face no other measures.
He supports Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO, but only if the country were to approve this in a referendum.
Zelenskiy has proposed that direct talks with Russia are necessary to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where fighting with Russia-backed separatist rebels has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. The Kremlin denies involvement there and says it is an internal matter. Zelenskiy says Russia-annexed Crimea must be returned to Ukraine and compensation paid.
Zelenskiy’s image has been shadowed by his admission that he had commercial interests in Russia through a holding company, and by persistent speculation about links with oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who owns the television station that airs “Servant of the People.”
A Ukrainian court this week ruled that the nationalization of a bank once owned by Kolomoyskyi was illegal, leading to new concern about Zelenskiy’s possible ties to him.
Poroshenko, who entered politics after establishing a lucrative candy-making company, came to power with a pragmatic image in 2014 after mass protests drove the previous, Russia-friendly president to leave the country.
Five years later, critics denounce him for having done little to combat Ukraine’s endemic corruption. The war with Russia-backed separatists in the east grinds on with no clear strategy for ending it. And while his economic reforms may have pleased international lenders, they’ve left millions of Ukrainians wondering if they can find the money to pay their utility bills.
After his weak performance in the election’s first round, in which Zelenskiy got nearly twice as many votes, Poroshenko said he had taken voters’ criticism to heart. He has since made some strong moves, including the long-awaited creation of an anti-corruption court. He also ordered the dismissal of the governor of the corruption-plagued Odessa region, and fired the deputy head of foreign intelligence who reportedly has vast real estate holdings in Russia.
Poroshenko, 53, has positioned himself as a leader who will stand up to Russia. He has scored some significant goals for Ukraine’s national identity and its desire to move out of Russia’s influence.
He signed an association agreement with the European Union — which predecessor Viktor Yanukovych turned away from, setting off the 2014 protests. Ukrainians now can travel visa-free to the European Union, a significant perk. He has also pushed relentlessly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be recognized as self-standing rather than just a branch of the Russian church.