Enthusiasm is growing among the younger Muslims from across the world to perform Hajj and Umra, and these days as huge crowds are seen in the cities of Makkah and Madina as are seen at the time of Hajj.

Locals say that they had not witnessed such gatherings in these months before.

The passion among the Pakistani Muslims is rather stronger than among the faithful in other countries and every sixth or seventh person seen in Holy Ka’ba or Masjid-i-Nabvi is a Pakistani. Urdu and Punjabi speakers wearing shalwar kameez or western suits can be seen all around.

The compound outside the Bab-i-Abdul Aziz in Makkah looks like some locality of Pakistan as more than 90 per cent people seen there are from various cities and villages of the Islamic republic. Most of them offer their prayers here and are seen exchanging views about the situation in their homeland.  While passing by them, one can also hear them talking about their family affairs.

Muslims are happy that the message of Islam is spreading fast across the world and young people come to perform Hajj and Umra.

Because of the crowds from across the world, the prices of food and room rents have gone up. The same is the situation of prices of other items that the Umra performers from other countries buy from Saudi Arabia. (A pilgrim got a half-litre water bottle for 5 Riyals at Jeddah airport)

The Saudi government is demolishing many old buildings near the Ka’ba complex, which were in the past used mainly by Pakistani people who perform the religious obligation but have fewer financial resources. These buildings will take years to reconstruct. It is expected that they will be converted into hotels and hence when they are opened to the pilgrims after a few years, the guests will have to pay much more than what they used to do to stay at the old buildings. This means the expenses for Hajj and Umra will go up in the years to come, although the government has already substantially raised the ceiling.

Although the Saudi government is taking steps to facilitate the pilgrims, there are still some areas needing attention.

NAWAFIL AFTER ASR: Ulema from all schools of thought agree that there is no room for nawafil after Asr prayer. However, a large number of people, in both Harmain continue to offer nawafil after Asr prayer. They don’t discontinue even when the guides tell them that it is ‘haram’ to offer any kind of prayers after Asr.

 Once a person, who was told in Masjid-i-Nabvi that post-Asr Nawafil are not permissible in Islam, lost his temper and burst out at the guide in Masjid-i-Nabvi. “You are mardood (outcast). You will never be pardoned (by Allah)”, he said storming out of the area.

All countries should tell the intending pilgrims what they should do after Asr prayers.  The Saudi government should also put up boards, at prominent places in the two Holy Mosques, inscribed with instructions on the subject. This will help the pilgrims and they will not do what they should not.

KISSING HAJR-I-ASWAD

Every pilgrim has a strong desire to kiss Hajr-i-Aswad, the Black Stone installed in a corner of Holy Ka’ba by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). But it is possible only for those who are physically strong. Such people perform the ritual and also facilitate their friends and relatives. Those who succeed in kissing the Black Stone are profusely perspiring when they try to leave the overcrowded premises.

This is not the right way to perform a religious obligation. There should be some mechanism to afford everyone a chance to perform the ritual. The ‘might is right’ principle should not apply here.

 FORMING ROWS: This is an area needing immediate attention. It will be better if those present in the Harmain start forming rows immediately after Azan so that everybody gets accommodated.  But at present, they stand up only when Takbir is called. This leads to indiscipline. Many spaces in all rows are seen vacant when the prayer starts. It’s only then that people start filling the vacant spaces. And those standing in back rows start joining the next, at times the effort ends up with such persons standing a few rows ahead of him.

The struggle by some to find a place leads to distraction to others whose rows they cross. This aspect must be taken care of in all mosques in all countries, but especially here.

LESS NUMBER OF TOILETS

As the number of pilgrims is increasing every year, the number of toilets outside the Holy Mosques is becoming inadequate. As a result, those wishing to perform ablutions there have to wait for quite a while. Sometimes the queues of such people are very long. The Saudi government is aware of the problem, and should set up more toilets as soon as possible.

NEED FOR PILGRIMS’ TRAINING

There is a dire need for the intending pilgrims’ training before they embark on the holy journey. Since most of the pilgrims from Pakistan are illiterate, they should be told by their operators as to which ritual they should perform where and when. They should be asked to wear particular dresses for the sake of their national identity and a better outlook.

At present, the women in particular, are not properly dressed. Most of them wear during their Umra what they wear at home – and that’s not a decent dressing. They also don’t care much about the sanctity of the Harmain. Because of this lack of knowledge, or perhaps carefree attitude, they don’t leave a good impression of themselves.

A couple from South Punjab walked barefoot from the place of their stay to the Holy Ka’ba.  But the moment they entered the sacred premises they put on their shoes. The illiterate pair did not know when to wear or take off shoes.  This is something every pilgrim should be told very clearly before they start their journey to Saudi Arabia.

BEGGARS OUTSIDE HARAM

About a dozen beggars have been seen outside the Masjid al-Haram in Makka for the past several years. They are disabled children, some without hands and others without legs. Their ‘guardians’ are also with them.

Their presence outside the world’s holiest mosque is a matter of embarrassment for all Muslims. They should be rehabilitated permanently, which wouldn’t require vast resources.

MISUSE OF CELL PHONES

The mobile phone is misused by many of the pilgrims in the premises of both Holy Ka’ba and Masjid-i-Nabvi. Many of them use it for unnecessary chats with friends and relatives. They tell them that they are sitting at such and such place and making special prayers for them. They are a source of disturbance to others.

The cell phone is also being used to take photographs of the Holy Ka’ba and Masjid-i-Nabvi.  Police guards tell the pilgrims “Axs Makrooh” (Photography not permitted), but such directions have not worked. As a result, cameras and phones are being excessively used in the premises of the Two Holy Mosques.

NAWAFIL AT RIAZUL JANNAH

Those who know the importance of praying at Riazul Jannah, described by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as a part of Heaven, try to spend as much time here as possible.  Some sit here from Zuhr to Isha, or even longer, as a result of which many others don’t get a chance to say even two Nawafil there.  Apparently this is unfair.  Since the space is limited, everybody should get a chance to pray there.

The relevant authorities would be doing a favour to many by evolving some mechanism that affords an opportunity to the maximum people present there.

SHORTAGE OF FOOD POINTS

Pakistanis performing Umra these days face difficulty in finding suitable places to eat. Although restaurants set up by Pakistanis are there, they are too few compared to the number of pilgrims. Long queues of food buyers are seen at the restaurants after Zuhr and Isha prayers. A lot of time is wasted in the effort.

Needless to say, the prices of all foods have been raised. Vegetables, dal or chanas are sold for 6 Riyals a plate, or equivalent to 150 Pakistani rupees.

Although there is tremendous room to bring down the prices, those who have gone to Saudi Arabia to make money will never do so.