British would-be Hajj pilgrims express disappointment, hope

British would-be Hajj pilgrims express disappointment, hope
Sehzad and Aziza Husain were not able to do Hajj this year but hope to perform the pilgrimage in 2021. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 July 2020

British would-be Hajj pilgrims express disappointment, hope

British would-be Hajj pilgrims express disappointment, hope
  • Only a limited number of people who reside in Saudi Arabia will be performing Hajj due to the coronavirus pandemic
  • Muslims from 160 nationalities who have never done Hajj before have been selected to perform the pilgrimage

LONDON: British Muslims who had planned to perform Hajj this year have expressed their disappointment at not being able to do so, while clinging to the hope that they will be able to go on the pilgrimage in 2021.
Last year, more than 2.5 million Muslims from around the world gathered in Makkah and the surrounding area for the religious journey.
This year, however, only a limited number of people who reside in Saudi Arabia will be performing Hajj due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Muslims from 160 nationalities who have never performed Hajj before and who are fit and healthy have been selected to fulfil the fifth pillar of Islam. 
Saudi security personnel and health practitioners who have recovered from COVID-19 will make up 30 percent of those who have received permission to perform Hajj. 
Sehzad Husain, 39, a London-based businessman, was planning to perform Hajj this year with his wife Aziza Husain, 38, an assistant head teacher at a primary school in the British capital. The onset of the pandemic means that the Husains will not be performing Hajj this year. 
Husain told Arab News that they booked their Hajj packages in January and paid for them in full because they were “extremely happy” at having the opportunity to perform the pilgrimage and were determined to go. 
“I feel very sad at not being able to perform Hajj this year,” Husain said. “Initially I was very excited about performing Hajj and was looking forward to it. I’d already started making preparations.”
He said they were still optimistic about performing Hajj even as coronavirus cases started to increase in the UK.
“We were hearing rumors that a limited number of people from each country would be able to perform Hajj. We were confident that we’d be among those people as we’re young, fit and healthy, and we’d paid for our packages in full already. We were prepared to pay extra if the price increased,” he added.
Husain described the disappointment that he and his wife felt when it was announced that overseas Muslims would not be able to take part.
“I somehow thought we’d end up going, so the decision was disappointing, but there’s nothing we can do,” he added.
Husain said they were set on performing the pilgrimage this year as his wife works in education and this would be the last year that the days of Hajj would fall completely during the academic summer holidays in the UK. 
“It’s very hard for teachers to get time off during term time, so that was the rationale behind us booking this year,” he added.
Although this is not the couple’s first Hajj, as they had both performed the pilgrimage separately before they were married, the Husains were looking forward to going on the spiritual journey together.  
“Although we’ve performed our once-in-a-lifetime obligation, we’ve always wanted to go together,” Husain said.  
“I travel regularly. I usually go abroad two or three times a year, and to this day nothing matches my experience of Hajj. It was a brilliant experience,” he added. 
“I’m happy that my Hajj package for 2021 has been booked and paid for. I think I’ll feel more excited as Hajj 2021 draws closer. We pray and hope that we’ll be able to perform the pilgrimage next year, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high,” Husain said.
“I’m privileged to be in a position where my place is booked and paid for. My wife and I are also lucky to have performed Hajj before.” 
Muslims must perform Hajj once in their lifetime if they are able to physically and have the means to do so. 
Some people save for years before they are able to do the pilgrimage, and try to spend as much time as possible in Saudi Arabia as they do not know when they will next get an opportunity.
This year, the price of Hajj packages in the UK ranged between £5,500 ($7,003) and £13,000 depending on a range of factors including how far hotels are from the holy sites, meals included, type of package and services offered within them. 
Hissam Syed, 42, works as a property manager in London and had planned to perform Hajj with his wife Reem Selim, 42, who is a civil engineer.
The couple had been saving for their first Hajj and had booked relatively early in August 2019.
“Performing Hajj costs a lot of money and we’d been saving for it for a long time. We didn’t take many holidays because we were planning to take a whole month off to perform Hajj. We wanted to spend as much time as possible in Makkah and Madinah as we may not get the chance to visit again,” Syed told Arab News.  
He said he felt “very disappointed and disheartened” when he learned that international pilgrims would not be able to perform Hajj this year.
“However, we understood that this decision was taken to ensure the safety of all. I’m still not over the disappointment,” he added. 
Syed said he and his wife are looking forward to performing Hajj next year if it is open to foreign pilgrims residing outside Saudi Arabia and if it is safe to do so. 
He said it might be difficult to wear a mask during the Hajj season that will fall in mid-July next year due to the scorching heat, but “the spiritual journey of performing Hajj will outweigh the difficulties experienced. I’ll be very excited once I’m informed that we’re able to perform Hajj.”


Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials
Updated 47 min 41 sec ago

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials
  • Bangavax is a new generation mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, but is expected to be cheaper
  • Bangladesh Medical Research Council requires Bangavax producer to first conduct trials on monkeys or chimpanzees

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.

The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.

GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”

Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.

“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.

“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

FASTFACT

Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’

GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.

“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”

“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.

“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”


Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince

Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince
Updated 18 June 2021

Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince

Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince
  • Syed Abid Shah has for decades practiced straw painting, a Chinese folk art that dates back 2,000 years to Han dynasty
  • The laborious technique requires artists to trim, dye and polish dried wheat stalks and weave them into images on a canvas

PESHAWAR: Known for his calligraphy and Mughal imagery, a master craftsman from northwestern Pakistan has recently turned to an ancient technique rarely used in portraiture to create an image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

For decades, Syed Abid Shah from Peshawar has been practicing and developing straw painting — a Chinese folk art that dates back at least 2,000 years to the Han dynasty. The laborious technique, which today has few practitioners, requires the artist to trim, dye and polish dried wheat stalks and then weave them into an image on a canvas.

Shah learned the art in Karachi at the age of 12 when he was introduced to a straw painter by an artistically inclined uncle.

After serving for two years as the artist’s apprentice, he started introducing innovations to the art, focusing mostly on architecture, Islamic ornaments or stories from the Mughal era. He did not venture into portraiture as the straw medium was rarely used for that.

But for the Saudi crown prince, Shah, now 60, says he has decided to create a detailed straw portrait.

“I had long wanted to sketch a Saudi royal, but it was only recently that I decided to draw the image of the prince who rose to fame across the world,” Shah told Arab News at his home in the village of Achar, on the outskirts of Peshawar.

It takes more than 3,000 straws and at least two weeks to create a 30-by-24-inch portrait of a human face. The straws are flattened, made smooth, cut into extremely tiny pieces and glued one by one to the canvas.

“I pray the prince accepts my gift,” Shah said.

Shah’s highest-profile work to date was making the family tree of Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, commissioned by the official’s father in 2012. It was also his most expensive piece, selling for Rs50,000 ($320).

But such orders are rare. Shah normally sells small, 8-by-12-inch paintings on the footpaths of Peshawar’s bustling Saddar market.

“On a lucky day, I manage to sell four or five pieces, which earns the bread and butter for my family,” he said.

One painting costs about Rs450 and takes him six hours to complete. Preparing the straw takes at least three days.

While Shah says he always knew there would not be big money in straw painting, his 23-year-old son, Shah Fahad, has bigger dreams. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and one day open a gallery to display his father’s work, as well as his own.

Fahad has been patiently learning the craft for the past four years.

“It is a slow learning process,” he said, “but I am lucky to spend more time with my father.”

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Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development

Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development
Updated 17 June 2021

Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development

Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development
  • Battersea Power Station has long been a staple of the British capital’s skyline
  • 20% of homes in the complex are being sold to Mideast investors, mostly from the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The redevelopment of one of London’s most iconic buildings has piqued the interest of Gulf buyers, who have snapped up millions of dollars’ worth of properties in what will soon be one of the British capital’s trendiest commercial, residential and cultural quarters.

Completed in 1935, Battersea Power Station has long held a special place in the British psyche.

It dominated the London skyline and powered the UK economy for decades. Plumes of smoke from its iconic four chimneys even guided British fighter planes home after bombing runs during World War II.

Now the building, with its coal-burning past firmly behind it, is taking on a new role as one of the capital’s hottest commercial developments — and Arab buyers have taken notice.

Simon Murphy, CEO of the Battersea Power Station Development Co. — which is redeveloping the unused site into luxury living spaces, retail quarters and offices — told Arab News that around 20 percent of homes in the complex are being sold to Middle Eastern investors.

“Within this, the majority have been from the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We’ve recently received over 100 enquiries mainly from buyers from Saudi and the UAE in the last month,” he said.

“There are a number of reasons why Battersea Power Station appeals to buyers from the Gulf,” he added, including its lucrative financial opportunities, its prime location next to the River Thames, and the abundance of green space provided in neighboring Battersea Park.

“Gulf buyers are also attracted to the project’s mix of uses, which includes homes, offices — including Apple’s new UK campus — shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas, theaters, a hotel and more. This genuine mix of uses is something that resonates with buyers from the Middle East,” he said. 

“The unique history and heritage of the power station building itself, which welcomed its first residents last month, is of course another point of attraction. The opportunity to buy a slice of British history is greatly appealing.”

Grahame Clist, a consultant at property investment firm Spot Blue, told Arab News that people’s expectation that the London property market would be crippled by the coronavirus pandemic turned out to be unfounded.

“If you’re taking a medium-term view for properties in London, especially for places like Battersea Power Station, then you’ve got a sound investment and something that not just Saudis but everyone in the world wants,” he said.

The pandemic stalled the property market and held back transactions, but when the ability to conduct viewings resumed there was a “massive uptake” of people looking to re-enter the market, he added.

“There’s been, to a certain degree, a property shortage that has held the market up,” Clist said. “In the Greater London area, prices have increased by at least 10 percent in the last six months — and that’s if you can find a property.”

Developments such as Battersea Power Station, he said, are among the first to capitalize on this surge in demand.

He echoed Murphy’s emphasis on the importance of British history in the development’s popularity. 

“It’s an iconic London building,” Clist said. “It’s almost as if Buckingham Palace was turned into apartments and put on the market — people would be rushing in to buy them from all over the world.”


Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag

Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag
Updated 17 June 2021

Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag

Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag
  • Nick Georges: ‘We should all be doing more to promote the cause of peace and freedom for the Palestinians’
  • ‘The Palestinians have no rights. As a Christian who cares, I can’t just stand by and let this go on’

LONDON: A pro-Palestine protestor scaled a 300-foot crane in central London to unveil a Palestinian flag, and spent 30 hours there before being removed by police.

Nick Georges, 69, took two hours to scale the crane, and recorded and released a heartfelt message about the plight of Palestinians from the top of the structure on Tuesday.

 

 

“I’ve climbed this 300-foot tower crane in the middle of London to tell the world about Palestine,” Georges said in the message.

“For three months I was sent to Palestine as a humanitarian witness and protected presence. For three months, on a daily basis, I witnessed the atrocities and the horrors of the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian homeland,” he added.

“I’ve seen a house where a family of four were burnt alive by Jewish settlers with incendiary bombs. I’ve seen land desecrated, olive plantations burned. I’ve seen so many demolitions of homes and houses by JCB machines, British-built machines, in Israel,” said Georges, who is a member of activist group Palestine Action.

“Every day … they’re demolishing more Palestinian homes. The Palestinians have no rights. Even their electricity and their water is taken from them,” he added.

“Israel is the fourth-largest nuclear military power in the world. The Palestinians have nothing.

“As a Christian who cares, I can’t just stand by and let this go on. We should all be doing more to promote the cause of peace and freedom for the Palestinians and stop the horrors that Israel is visiting upon these people.”
Georges used bolt cutters and a portable ladder to break into the building site — which will one day be home to a 650-foot skyscraper — at 4 a.m.
He said the crane stunt was “the most terrifying thing I’ve done in my 69 years of being on this planet — the heights, the fear of falling and breaking into the building site.”

This marks his second arrest by police in a year. In February, he and a team of activists scaled and vandalized a British factory producing drones for the Israeli military.

There has been a flurry of pro-Palestinian activism globally in recent weeks following nearly two weeks of Israeli bombardment of Gaza that claimed the lives of around 250 Palestinians, injured thousands and left tens of thousands homeless.


Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry
Updated 17 June 2021

Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry
  • The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi
  • Inquiry heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the show’s end

LONDON: Security teams at Britain’s Manchester Arena “should have prevented or minimized” the impact of the 2017 terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 people, a public inquiry found Thursday.
The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a Mancunian of Libyan descent.
In a report examining security measures at the venue in northwest England, inquiry chairman John Saunders said Arena operator SMG, security provider Showsec and British Transport Police all missed opportunities to either prevent or mitigate the attack, which took place on May 22, 2017.
“The security arrangements for the Manchester Arena should have prevented or minimized the devastating impact of the attack,” he wrote.
“Salman Abedi should have been identified on 22nd May 2017 as a threat by those responsible for the security of Arena and a disruptive intervention undertaken.
“Had that occurred, I consider it likely that Salman Abedi would still have detonated his device, but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less,” he added.
The inquiry had heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the end of the show, where the bomb was detonated, but nobody was there.
A Showsec security guard also told the inquiry that he had a “bad feeling” when he saw Abedi around five minutes before the attack, but did not approach him for fear of being called a racist.
“I felt unsure about what to do,” said Kyle Lawler, who was aged 18 at the time of the attack.
“I did not want people to think I am stereotyping him because of his race.”
Lawler said he had tried to radio the control room, but that he gave up as he could not get through due to radio traffic.
A member of the public had reported Abedi, who was dressed in black and carrying a large rucksack, to security 15 minutes before he detonated the bomb, packed with 3,000 nuts and bolts.
Abedi’s brother was last year jailed for life for playing an “integral part” in the attack, that also injured hundreds.
The Daesh group-inspired suicide bombing targeted crowds of mostly young people.
The youngest victim was aged just eight. Others included parents who had come to pick up their children.