UAE expats endure ‘years of waiting’ for lifelong dream of performing Haj

Going on the pilgrimage isn't easy owing to Haj regulations and quota specific to each country


Nasreen Abdulla

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Pilgrims circle Kaaba as they perform Tawaf at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on June 11. — Photo: Reuters
Pilgrims circle Kaaba as they perform Tawaf at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on June 11. — Photo: Reuters

Published: Thu 13 Jun 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 13 Jun 2024, 11:49 PM

For Indian expat Muteeullah Qureshi, it has been a childhood dream to perform Haj with his mother. This year, after trying for more than five years, he is finally living his dream. “When my mother saw the Kaabah, she started weeping,” he said, speaking to Khaleej Times from the holy city of Makkah. “All those years of yearning and praying became fruitful this year and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.”

Qureshi is one of the millions of Muslims all over the world who travelled to the holy city to perform the Islamic pilgrimage of Haj. One of the five pillars of Islam, the ritual is compulsory for all able-bodied Muslims who have the means for it at least once in their lifetime.

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However, the journey didn’t come easy for Qureshi. “In 2019, I paid the money for the pilgrimage for the following year, but that is when the Covid lockdown was enforced by the government,” he said. “So the money was returned to me and I could not go. I was heartbroken at the time.”

He later applied through the Indian government quota and got the opportunity this year to perform the pilgrimage along with his wife, mother, and elder sister. However, before he could travel, he had to make arrangements for the care of his three children. “My brother works in Dubai as a pharmacist and his wife lives in India,” he said. “I brought his wife to Dubai and the two of them are taking care of my children, who are 12, 9 and 2.”

Muteeullah Qureshi with his mother
Muteeullah Qureshi with his mother

According to Qureshi, the hardest part for him was leaving his two-year-old daughter in Dubai. “She is very attached to me and I am missing her terribly,” he said. “But I am comforting myself by thinking that it is the Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim who was instructed to leave his child behind.”

The Islamic belief is that Prophet Ibrahim was instructed by God to leave his wife and child behind in the desert. When the child started crying, his wife Hajar ran seven times up and down two hills looking for water and then God caused the well of Zamzam to form at the child’s feet.

Five thousand years after its formation, the well is still one of the main sources of water in the city of Makkah and quenches the thirst of millions throughout the year.

Haj pilgrims at Dubai airport. Photo: KT File
Haj pilgrims at Dubai airport. Photo: KT File

Thousands await their turn

Even as people like Qureshi get to live their dream, there are thousands of others who are waiting for their turn to perform the pilgrimage. Emirati Noora T. is one of them. “I applied to go for Haj with my sisters, brothers and their families,” she said. “However, with the limited number of people who are allowed each year, we have not got our chance as yet.”

The 34-year-old has watched several of her friends going on the pilgrimage and is anxious. “Last year, a friend of mine went and she said it was physically very demanding,” she said. “I want to do it as early as possible so that I can do all the rituals to the best of my ability.”

Haj involves a series of rituals completed over at least four days in the holy city of Makkah. The most auspicious day is the second one when pilgrims gather for prayers on Mount Arafat. After that they travel to the city of Muzdalifah where they spend the night sleeping on any open space they find. The next day, they make the trek to Mina where they then proceed to perform the stoning ceremony.

The difficulties of regulations

Every country in the world is given a quota for Haj, based on the number of Muslims in a country. It is roughly about 1 per cent of the total number of Muslims. The stay at Haj camps are also divided according to countries.

Those who face the most trouble because of this are couples with inter-country passports. One such couple is M. Husainy and Salman Ali. Husainy holds the German passport while her husband has a Pakistani passport.

“We have approached several travel agents from Pakistan and German and they all shied away from even guiding me because it is such a rigid procedure,” said Husainy. “We have been trying for several years but it is seeming increasingly difficult.”

Currently the couple are exploring various options including taking a second passport. “Germany allows dual citizenship and I am considering taking a Pakistani passport,” said Husainy. “I am a little frustrated that at the time when the world is becoming increasingly connected, the options for couples with different passports to do Haj together are so restricted.”


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