Then and now: the shifting role of the pilgrims’ guide in Makkah

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Updated 22 July 2020

Then and now: the shifting role of the pilgrims’ guide in Makkah

Then and now: the shifting role of the pilgrims’ guide in Makkah
  • While the services guides provide are as important as ever, the nature of their relationship with pilgrims has, by necessity, changed

MAKKAH: When the pilgrimage season begins, pilgrims’ guides temporarily leave behind their regular jobs and professional titles to serve visitors of all nationalities. It is a solemn and blessed role that many Makkans inherited from their parents and grandparents.

The male and female guides find comfort and pleasure in serving pilgrims, despite the lack of financial reward. They consider their service an honor they are granted each year.

Dr. Talal Qutub, for example, normally works as an internal medicine consultant. He said that he has been blessed to serve pilgrims since early childhood, inheriting the job from his family. They cultivated within him the love of pilgrims and caring for them, from the moment they arrive in Makkah until they depart.

He said that there is a mutual love, appreciation and respect between pilgrims and their guides, and to the guides those feelings are like the oxygen they breathe.

Qutub stated started out in 1973 as an independent guide, before becoming a member of the board of directors of the Institution of Iranian Pilgrims’ Guides and then serving as its president for many years.

“I became the head of the coordinating body of the institutions of the sects’ leaders, during which I was able to complete my studies in medicine and obtain my Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree in Pakistan without interruption to the service of pilgrims,” he said. “Then I joined Saudi Airlines as a doctor in medical services and became general manager of the medical services.

“I was practicing my profession as a doctor and obtained a doctorate in the field of the digestive system and liver while studying Austria, but continued serving pilgrims during my studies there by coming to the Kingdom during the pilgrimage season.”

He said that serving pilgrims is an important part of his life and he could not give it up. It is also a calling that he has passed on to the next generation.

“My son, Dr. Hadi, has inherited the profession from me,” he said. “He is a digestive and liver disease consultant, and a member of the board of directors of the Institution of the Iranian Pilgrims’ Guides.”

Guide Ahmed Halabi, a journalist who specializes in pilgrimage services, said: “Pilgrimage guidance has been linked since its inception in 683 AH/1284 AD to providing special services to the pilgrims of the sacred house of God, including reception, circumambulation and supplications.

“This is what Al-Qasim Bin Youssef Al-Sabti refers to in his book ‘The Beneficiary of Expedition and Expatriation.’ He quotes the traveler Ibn Rashid, who performed pilgrimage in 683 AH/1284 AD: ‘The people of Makkah and their children receive pilgrims and teach them rituals. They train their boys on that, so they teach pilgrims prayers and supplications.’”

Halabi added: “We find many guides who have inherited the profession from their fathers and grandfathers, and are proud of it because it was limited to the judges and scholars in the beginning.”

He said that beautiful words of praise and gratitude increase the sense of pride that guides take in their work. Swiss traveler and historian Jean Louis Burckhardt, for example, said: “The guides are the leaders of the pilgrims during the rituals of pilgrimage and while visiting the holy places in the Prophet’s city.”

In his book ‘The Gentle Pleasures in the Mind of the Pilgrim to the Holiest Place,’ Shakib Arslan wrote: “There are two groups in the honorable Hejaz that visitors of Hijaz need and must have a relationship with: Guides in Makkah and Madinah.”

Lady Evelyn Cobbold, a convert to Islam who in 1933 became the first British Muslim woman to perform Hajj, describes in her book “Pilgrimage to Mecca” the details of her visit.

“Time will not erase from my mind and my memory the scenes that I saw in Mecca and Medina, and the strength of faith, beauty of loyalty, and love of good, for both people and enemies alike, which I felt in the Holy Land,” she wrote.

A number of prominent people have served as guides through the years.

“There are many personalities,” said Halabi. “Perhaps the most prominent of them is Dr. Hamid Al-Harsani, who held the position of Minister of Health during the period from (1961 to 1962). He was not only a guide but a leader of guides.

“There was also the late Sheikh Saleh Kamel. His family worked in guidance and his father worked in the Cabinet Office, but he was keen to attend the pilgrimage season to serve the pilgrims coming from Africa. Their office was located in Al-Shabika.”

Faten Hussein, a reporter and specialist in pilgrimage guidance, said the job of guide is inherited by many Makkans by virtue of their proximity to the Holy Sites, their close relationship with the pilgrims, and knowledge of their languages and culture.

She that many begin their work as guides at a very young age, and that the most important thing that distinguishes them is their moral values. A spirit of sacrifice and unlimited benevolence in serving the needs of pilgrims have instilled in them a unique religious identity built on strong belief. They are religious role models for pilgrims, she added.

However, as times have changed, and the number of pilgrims has increased dramatically, so too has the nature of the relationship between guide and pilgrim. What was once a close, almost familial relationship, is now, by necessity, more businesslike.

“Pilgrimage guidance was initially an individual profession, in the sense that the individual and his family carried the burdens and responsibilities of guidance, from the pilgrims’ arrival in Makkah until they departed,” said Hussein.

“But the increase in the number of pilgrims (created a lot of challenges) in performing the profession as it was based on randomness and personal diligence and the individual’s ability to perform all tasks with the required accuracy. This situation led to the emergence of the guidance institutions in (1982), which are based on organized, collective work to intensify efforts and unify procedures to upgrade the services provided to the pilgrims.

“But this in turn led to a cooling in the relationship between pilgrims and guides because pilgrims were placed in distant residences completely separate from the residences of guides and their families, which formed barriers in communication and human relations and led to the shrinking or fading of the close relationship that used to exist between them in the past.”

In the old days, Hussein said, pilgrims and their families used to spend six months or more in Makkah. Female guides worked in roles such as reception and hospitality, preparing locations, accompanying female pilgrims to the holy places, looking after their valuables, providing health care or religious awareness, and even caring for their children.

“In recent years, female guides have worked in a more advanced way and performed high-quality services for female pilgrims,” she said. “Cultural- and religious-awareness meetings are provided for female pilgrims, the content of which is determined according to the needs of the targeted groups. Female guides are also trained in the art of dealing with female pilgrims, the art of speech, and in first aid and other courses.”

Sami Al-Muabber, the chief of Russeifa neighborhood in Makkah, recalled the relationship that developed between guides and pilgrims in years gone by, from their arrival on ships until their departure after spending six or seven months among Makkans. He compared the moment of parting with saying farewell to close family members.

He also highlighted the important role played by the women of Makkah, even many years ago, who went to extraordinary lengths to provide first-class hospitality, from preparing delicious meals to sewing clothes.

Al-Muabber said that pilgrims in the past would spend more time in Makkah and Madinah than in their home countries. As a result, they learned Arabic and taught others their mother tongues. This had a social impact on the way of life of Makkans, who treated the pilgrims as part of their families and essential partners in the social life of the city.

Pilgrims used to arrive at the beginning of the month of Rajab by “Babur” (ship), he added, and stay until Safar, seven months later, which gave plenty of time for them to integrate with Makkans. Pilgrims lived in the homes of their guides. The owner would vacate most of the house, keeping only a room on the roof for himself and his family, with a space in front of it.

The joy of the pilgrims’ arrival was similar to the arrival of Eid, said Al-Muabber. A great feast, called hospitality, was laid on for them, to which all the people of the neighborhood were invited. He added that Makkans would compete with each other to offer hospitality to pilgrims, who would stay, eat and drink as guests of God.

Makkan women shared the same divine rewards as male guides, he said, because they took care of their visitors, accompanied female pilgrims to textile stores and bought them what they needed, and sewed their clothes. Female pilgrims would also buy eyeliners, incense and framed pictures of Makkah and Madinah. Makkan women used to help female pilgrims choose their clothes and prayer mat. Such was the closeness of the relationship that developed over many months between pilgrim and guide, saying goodbye was painful.

“It was like saying goodbye to a family member,” said Al-Muabber. The visitors, he added, became part of the family, sharing moments of happiness and sadness.

Nowadays, the high number of pilgrims and the ways in which the wider world has changed mean that they do not get to know the Makkans in such a deep and meaningful way. Some pilgrims now arrive on the Day of Arafah and leave soon after. They no longer have the opportunity to share with the people of Makkah the beauty of meeting and getting to know each other, or create memories together that will last a lifetime.

Al-Muabber pointed out that at the beginning of the reign of King Saud the number of pilgrims was about 200,000; now there more than two million each year, and they spend much less time in Saudi Arabia. With such sweeping changes, the days when pilgrims and locals could meet, spend time together and form deep bonds that lasted a lifetime are long gone.


After COVID, Saudi Arabia set to turn its attention to an older scourge: viral hepatitis

The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
Updated 36 min 56 sec ago

After COVID, Saudi Arabia set to turn its attention to an older scourge: viral hepatitis

The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
  • Ahead of World Hepatitis Day on July 28, health professionals are calling for action against the “silent killer”
  • Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail of King Faisal Specialist Hospital says the Kingdom will need to resume efforts to eliminate Hepatitis B and C

DUBAI: Before the coronavirus swept the planet in early 2020, Saudi Arabia was on course to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. But as in the rest of the world, the task of fighting COVID-19 in the Kingdom was understandably given precedence over efforts to defeat what is often called the “silent killer.”

Hepatitis fits the description because 95 percent of infected individuals worldwide are unaware of their infection and in most cases people are asymptomatic. It nevertheless remains the world’s seventh-leading cause of death.
The illness is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are five main strains of the virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E.
While all cause liver disease, the five strains differ in important ways, including modes of transmission, severity of the illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods.

In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. An estimated 325 million people worldwide live with hep-B or C and, for most, testing and treatment remains beyond reach.
In 2015, viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths worldwide, mostly from hep-B infection, which is higher than the number of global deaths caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Some types of hepatitis are preventable through vaccination. According to the WHO, “an estimated 4.5 million premature deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, diagnostic tests, medicines and education campaigns.”
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Nobel prize-winning scientist Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who discovered hep-B virus and developed a diagnostic test and vaccine.

FASTFACT

July28

World Hepatitis Day is observed each year on this date to raise awareness about the virus that causes liver disease and hepatocellular cancer.

With COVID-19 vaccination efforts continuing apace and the pandemic beginning to subside in many parts of the developed world, the fight against viral hepatitis is once again high on Saudi Arabia’s public health agenda.
“The Saudi Ministry of Health instituted a specific program to fight hepatitis C in the country before the pandemic, in accordance with the WHO,” Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail, a consultant transplant hepatologist at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, told Arab News.


“But then COVID-19 came and disrupted many initiatives. The battle against COVID-19 had to be the priority.”
In 2016, the WHO Global Health Sector Strategy issued a road map for the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030.
The plan entailed a 90 percent reduction in infections and a 65 percent reduction in mortality by the end of the decade, compared to a 2015 baseline that showed 257 million people living with hepatitis B, 71 million with hepatitis C, and 36.7 million with HIV.
“As Saudi Arabia gains control over COVID-19, it’s time to revisit the initiatives and campaigns to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C with full force to meet the WHO target of elimination by 2030 in our country,” Aba Alkhail said.
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with the blood, semen and other body fluids of an infected individual, but can be prevented through vaccination.
Hepatitis C is also blood-borne, but varies in its severity, in some cases lasting only a few months while at other times developing into a lifelong illness. It is a major cause of liver cancer, with sufferers often requiring liver transplantation. There is currently no vaccine.
In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia had one of the highest rates of hep-B infection in the world, with an estimated 8.3 percent of the population infected.
Then, in 1989, the Kingdom became the first country in the Middle East to launch a hep-B vaccination program, eight years after the first vaccine was approved for use in the US. By 1990, the vaccine was available to all infants from birth and children were routinely vaccinated when they started school.
While the vaccination of children and infants has been associated with a notable decline in the rate of infection in Saudi Arabia, falling to just 1.3 percent according to the Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology, hepatitis remains a major public health risk in the Kingdom, especially among high-risk groups, including those with HIV, drug addictions and those who have undergone blood transfusions.


In 2007, the Saudi Ministry of Health ranked hepatitis the second most common reportable viral disease in the country, with almost 9,000 new cases diagnosed that year alone. Of these, 52 percent had hepatitis B, 32 percent hepatitis C, and 16 percent hepatitis A.
In Saudi Arabia, hepatitis B and C remain a major cause of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer, and diseases that require liver transplantation. The infection rate may have dropped, but morbidity and mortality related to the disease have not shown a parallel decline.

 

It’s time to revisit the initiatives and campaigns to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C with full force.

Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail - Consultant transplant hepatologist at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh

Medical experts expect the burden of associated liver diseases to rise in the coming years, owing to aging in infected populations.

Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail

Saudi Arabia has implemented a number of programs designed to improve diagnosis, including premarital screening for hepatitis B and C and HIV. “In Saudi Arabia you can’t complete marriage documents without doing the test for hep-B and hep-C,” Aba Alkhail said.
“In addition, the Kingdom follows the standard special population screening of dialysis patients, blood bank donors, hospital-based patients and other high-risk groups.”
Crucially, it has also made hepatitis screening and treatments free to all citizens and residents, both Saudi and non-Saudi.
“In Saudi Arabia, we are (trying our best to follow) the WHO targets: To diagnose 90 percent of infections and treat 80 percent of high viral-load patients by 2030, as well as diagnose and treat all infected patients by 2022,” said Aba Alkhail.


“Most known cases have been rated and cured since effective treatments were made available in 2014. Many countries are running out of new hepatitis C patients to treat, according to the World Hepatitis Alliance.
“Saudi Arabia still has the burden of hepatitis C patients that are not yet diagnosed and there is a need for a screening program to detect previously undiagnosed cases.”
Medical professionals set out a list of recommendations in a May 2021 report, titled “Revealing Hepatitis B Virus as a Silent Killer: A Call-to-Action for Saudi Arabia,” published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science.
“In 2016, hep-B caused 1,700 annual deaths (i.e. five deaths per day) in KSA,” the report said. “Although substantial improvements have been made in hep-B management, a lot remains to be done for hep-B screening and care pathways.
“Considering the current hep-B estimates in KSA, the country is expected to achieve the WHO hep-B 2030 target goals for diagnosis, treatment and mortality by 2051.
“The current scenario in KSA demands the implementation of a structured policy framework to combat and eliminate hep-B.”
The report’s authors said the Kingdom could curb the virus by “establishing a national-level registry, implementing screening campaigns, improving linkage of care between primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists, and increasing PCP education and awareness.”
However, the report said that in order for these measures to have the desired effect on transmission rates, they must be adhered to consistently and simultaneously throughout the Kingdom.
“We have already come so far since the 1990s. Saudi Arabia had a problem in the past with hepatitis, but the vaccine has greatly improved its prevalence in the Kingdom,” said Aba Alkhail.
“The challenge now is finding the undiagnosed cases and treating them effectively so that we can win this battle.”

 

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

 

Decoder

Hepatitis

● The illness is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization. There are five main strains of the virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. ● While all cause liver disease, the five strains differ in important ways, including modes of transmission, severity of the illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods. ● In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.


New ‘Hawi’ platform launched to develop Saudi Arabia hobbies sector

The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in Saudi Arabia and abroad. (Supplied)
The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in Saudi Arabia and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 28 July 2021

New ‘Hawi’ platform launched to develop Saudi Arabia hobbies sector

The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in Saudi Arabia and abroad. (Supplied)
  • Hawi will be involved with training courses, where international expertise can be transferred to clubs and exchanged with other institutions

JEDDAH: The Quality of Life Program’s Center on Tuesday launched a pilot version of the “Hawi” online platform to develop the Kingdom’s hobbies sector.
Hawi has been produced for the Saudi Amateur Clubs Association to raise awareness on the importance of hobbies to boost creativity and social activities.
The platform aims to encourage communication among those who share the same interests and ensure the operational and financial support for amateurs.
Director of the association Najlaa Al-Ajmi said the platform will promote positive lifestyles and improve the quality of life in the Kingdom.
“The platform has been developed to establish communities that share the same interests under an official umbrella, making it easier for clubs to establish their teams and register members,” she added.
She said that the platform has many benefits including “promoting healthy lifestyles, establishing balance between work and social life and allowing amateurs to practice their hobbies in an adequate environment, with people who share the same passion.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Hawi has been produced for the Saudi Amateur Clubs Association to raise awareness on the importance of hobbies to boost creativity and social activities.

• The platform aims to encourage communication among those who share the same interests.

• It allows people to establish and register amateur clubs, manage members and their activities, define the regulations of the sector, reserve facilities and organize training courses.

Hawi allows people to establish and register amateur clubs, manage members and their activities, define the regulations of the sector, reserve facilities and organize training courses.
It also encourages amateurs to practice their hobbies by finding the proper facilities for their role.
The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in the Kingdom and abroad.
Hawi will be involved with training courses, where international expertise can be transferred to clubs and exchanged with other institutions.
Hawi’s board of directors comprises representatives of 11 governmental authorities under the supervision of the Quality of Life program, the supervisory authority for hobbies in the Kingdom.


Saudi Culture Ministry issues 149 more scholarships

Saudi Culture Ministry. (SPA)
Saudi Culture Ministry. (SPA)
Updated 28 July 2021

Saudi Culture Ministry issues 149 more scholarships

Saudi Culture Ministry. (SPA)
  • Female students dominate the new batch of scholarships at 74 percent

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Culture Ministry on Tuesday said it issued 149 additional scholarships, which will provide specialized learning opportunities for Saudi male and female students at prominent international institutions.
It is part of the ministry’s cultural scholarship program. Female students dominate the new batch of scholarships at 74 percent.  The ministry said so far 50 percent of the male and female students enrolled with the program are undergraduates, while 49 percent are pursuing their master’s degrees. They are studying in several creative fields.
Archaeology, design, museums, music, theater, filmmaking, literature, visual and culinary arts, will be just some of the fields of study available at Ph.D., bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels.
 


Saudi tourism fund adopts cloud computing

Tourism Development Fund has adopted cloud computing technology. (SPA)
Tourism Development Fund has adopted cloud computing technology. (SPA)
Updated 28 July 2021

Saudi tourism fund adopts cloud computing

Tourism Development Fund has adopted cloud computing technology. (SPA)
  • The fund was founded in June with an initial $4 billion investment and is part of plans to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy

RIYADH: The Tourism Development Fund (TDF) has adopted cloud computing technology in cooperation with Oracle to enable investors to benefit from the Saudi tourism sector’s promising opportunities.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, TDF said that implementing the Cloud Computing Strategy (CCS) would enhance data integration, increase productivity, reduce costs, unify and facilitate operations and ensure smooth communication with all stakeholders, including investors, donors, and governmental agencies.  TDF said cooperation with the world’s largest database management company will provide a full range of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure solutions and Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications which will contribute to enhancing TDF’s services. 
The fund was founded in June with an initial $4 billion investment and is part of plans to diversify the Kingdom’s economy.


Arab coalition intercepts several missiles, drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition intercepts several missiles, drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia
Updated 28 July 2021

Arab coalition intercepts several missiles, drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition intercepts several missiles, drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia
  • The coalition said the missile and the drone were targeting Jazan region

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Tuesday it intercepted and destroyed four ballistic missiles and two explosive-laded drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi militia toward southern Saudi Arabia, state TV reported.
The coalition said the missiles and the drones were targeting Jazan region, in a “deliberate” attempt to target civilian objects and populated areas.
The coalition also said that it is “taking operational measures to target the sources of the threat, in accordance with international law.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the US condemned the Iran-backed Houthis recent attacks on the Kingdom, and called on the group to cease its military actions and commit to a cease-fire that would end the conflict in Yemen.
On Saturday, the coalition said Saudi air defenses intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile and three drones launched by the militia toward the Kingdom’s southern region, which was also strongly condemned by the Arab Interior Ministers Council, the Arab Parliament, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and regional and Arab countries.