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.


Doubts over Rohingya repatriation as none wants to return

Updated 15 November 2018
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Doubts over Rohingya repatriation as none wants to return

  • ‘None of the 50 families interviewed expressed their willingness to go back under the present circumstances’
  • ‘We cannot force them to go back against their will’

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: Doubts over plans to begin repatriating the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled Myanmar last year escalated Thursday as Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner said none wanted to return and that they would not be forced to go.
Terrified refugees, who arrived in Bangladesh with testimony of murder, rape and arson after they escaped a military crackdown last year, went into hiding as authorities insisted they would proceed despite UN warnings.
But Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner cast doubt on whether the plan to send the first batch of 150, from a preliminary 2,260 slated for return, could go ahead as scheduled Thursday.
“According to the UNHCR voluntariness assessment, none of the 50 families interviewed expressed their willingness to go back under the present circumstances. None feels safe to go back now,” Mohammad Abul Kalam said.
Kalam would not say if the planned repatriations for Thursday were canceled.
But he said: “We cannot force them to go back against their will.”
More than 720,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya sought refuge from a Myanmar military crackdown launched from August last year that UN investigators say amounted to ethnic cleansing, joining some 300,000 already in Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugees currently reside in vast camps in southeastern Bangladesh, including a massive settlement in the border district of Cox’s Bazar, where community leaders said most of those marked for repatriation had headed to the hills.
“Ninety-eight percent of the families (on the list) have fled,” community leader Nur Islam said Thursday.
He and other community leaders said that an increase in the number of Bangladeshi soldiers at the camps in recent days had stoked anxiety.
“Everyone is tense, the situation is very bad,” Abdur Rahim, another leader, said in Cox’s Bazar. “There are a lot of army and police inside the camps. They are checking the ID cards of Rohingya.”
A local police chief, Abul Khaer, played down reports of additional security, saying nothing in terms of personnel had changed in recent months.
The UN refugee agency has publicly cautioned against the repatriation going ahead and, in an internal briefing paper seen by AFP, laid out stringent conditions under which it would offer humanitarian assistance to anyone who ends up returning.
In the confidential document dated November 2018, UNHCR said it would only provide aid if returnees were allowed back to the villages they had left or to other locations chosen by them.
Bangladesh authorities have insisted only those who volunteer will be returned but UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday that many refugees are panicking at the prospect of being sent back against their will.
“With an almost complete lack of accountability – indeed with ongoing violations – returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades,” Bachelet said.
She said that the violations against the Rohingya “amount to the worst atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide.”
Amnesty International on Wednesday called on Bangladesh and Myanmar authorities to “immediately halt” their plans, saying it was a “reckless move which puts lives at risk.”
“These women, men and children would be sent back into the Myanmar military’s grasp with no protection guarantees, to live alongside those who torched their homes and whose bullets they fled,” said Amnesty’s Nicholas Bequelin.
Human Rights Watch echoed the concern on Thursday, asking Bangladesh to “immediately halt” the planned repatriation.
“The Bangladesh government will be stunned to see how quickly international opinion turns against it if it starts sending unwilling Rohingya refugees back into harm’s way in Myanmar,” said Bill Frelick, HRW refugee rights director.
US Vice President Mike Pence told Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday that the violence against the Rohingya was “without excuse,” adding pressure to Myanmar’s civilian leader.