Jordanians enjoy digital Hajj

At the dawn of the first day of Eid Al-Adha — the third day of Hajj — hundreds of thousands of pilgrims walked together to Jamarat Al-Aqaba in Mina. (AN photo by Essam Al-Ghalib)
Updated 11 August 2019

Jordanians enjoy digital Hajj

  • ‘90 percent of all pilgrims today get a visa using the electronic path’

AMMAN: For three years, Dr. Emad Abu Safieh has been filling out online Hajj applications. Every year he fills out two: One for his father Ahmad and his mother Shukrieh, and another for his 71-year old uncle Yousef. 

Safieh, 44, a university professor and dean of the business department at the Arab Open University in Amman, told Arab News that he was happy to help with the posting of Hajj request for his older relatives.

“The site is easy to use; after filling out the details, including contacts and a secondary phone number, a confirmation message is sent to both the basic phone number and the alternative one. Hajj digitalization is happening now and it works well.”

Safieh’s hope to accompany his father did not materialize this year, as only his uncle’s application was accepted. “But at least my dad will go as his companion, and he will also be accompanied by my mother,” Safieh said.

Hajj application digitalization covers both Saudi Arabia’s internal applications and the massive number of visa applications under the title “electronic visa path.” But while the electronic visa path is mostly connected to those wishing to travel by air, companies in countries like Jordan, where the majority of pilgrims prefer the land route, say that the digitization of the Hajj has helped them a lot.

Majdi Batoush, the lead technology officer at Jordan’s Islamic Waqf Department, told Arab News that the electronic path for the Hajj set up by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj has made life much easier for many. “In one site we have all the details and we no longer have to file through loads of paperwork as we used to do in the past.” 

Batoush says that nearly 90 percent of all pilgrims today get a visa using the electronic path created by the Saudi authorities. “Once online, the data can be shared to the benefit of all relevant bodies each as is necessary for their work,” he said.

In one site we have all the details and we no longer have to file through loads of paperwork as we used to do in the past.

Ali Daebess has been working at the Teeba Al-Bawadi Hajj and Umrah Tourist Co. for 19 years. Speaking to Arab News, Daebess explained that the digitalization of the Hajj has made life much easier also for tour companies. “We used to photograph and scan passports five or six times, and we had a ton of paperwork. Now everything is online and much easier.” 
Daebess concedes that most pilgrims are older and are not computer or internet literate. 

“They come to our office and we upload the information for them, we do it for free and it takes a few minutes to post.” The IT specialist, whose company’s Facebook page boasts over 27,000 followers, says that social media has been helpful. “We get a lot of feedback on social media mostly from relatives of pilgrims.”

Although the digital process appears smooth these days, Hajj companies and government officials admit that things were not easy at first. “It was hard at first to adjust and the site was difficult to navigate,” Majdi told Arab News, “but now things are much easier and we are able to process many more applications in a shorter period of time.”

Young Libyans chose danger at sea over peril at home

Updated 10 min 59 sec ago

Young Libyans chose danger at sea over peril at home

For three young Libyans plucked from a deflating dingy in the Mediterranean, the perils of trying to cross the sea were still preferable to what they had left behind in their war-torn home.
Salah, Khalil and Ibrahim, aged between 19 and 22, sat in a corner of the Ocean Viking vessel operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders as it waited for permission to dock at a port.
They sat apart from other migrants from Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, Senegal and the Ivory Coast who have fled torture and abuse in Libya where most of them had gone to seek work.
“I had no idea how dangerous the sea could be,” says Khalil, 20.
“But Libya is collapsing — you cannot live there,” he adds, pulling an imaginary trigger.

Before he fled Libya, Khalil was a taxi driver.
While driving the route from Sabha, his hometown in the center to the eastern city of Benghazi, he was stopped by militia loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a strongman who holds sway in the region.
He said he was thrown into prison where he languished for three months alongside hundreds of others and was beaten daily, pointing to a scar in the corner of his mouth.
He later made a break for freedom with about 15 fellow prisoners, running the gauntlet of their jailers who fired on them as they fled.
“People were shot around me but I didn’t stop,’ he said. “I was hit too.”
Luca, the ship’s doctor who removed the bullets embedded in Khalil’s body, says such wounds are nothing new among those fleeing from conflict areas.
With his taxi taken from him, Khalil returned to his family. “I just wanted to live a normal life,” he said.
But a month later fighting broke out in his town and his mother told him to flee.
“She had no idea of how dangerous the crossing could be,” Khalil says. “Neither did I. I was happy to try the sea.”
But by the time he was rescued by Doctors without Borders on August 12, the blue rubber dingy he was sharing with 104 others was on the verge of sinking.

Nineteen-year-old Salah joined the forces of the Government of National Accord of Fayez-al-Sarraj. But he soon realized that he was not cut out for war.
“If I had stayed, I would have been killed — either by Sarraj’s men for fleeing, or by Haftar’s men for fighting for Sarraj,” he said.
He got a number from a Sudanese, and left the same day — with just time for one last selfie with his family.
Ibrahim’s reason for fleeing was the color of his skin.
“My father was black — he is dead. My uncle died in the fighting. My school was bombed. My mother said to me ‘Libya is not a country for you’.”
“My Sudanese friends were like a family to me. One from Darfur was killed right in front of me as we were on our way to play football,” he said.
“I didn’t want to fight. I was terrified on that blue boat, but Libya is more dangerous than our sunken vessel.”