UAE residents recall the last Haj before Covid-19

Reuters file photo
Reuters file photo

Dubai - UAE residents who had been on a Haj pilgrimage before Covid-19 consider themselves ‘blessed’ to have performed it under normal conditions.

By SM Ayaz Zakir

Published: Sat 10 Jul 2021, 4:27 PM

When Indian expat Mohammed Salim performed Haj in 2019, there were millions of them in the holy city of Makkah. Now, with the pilgrimage restricted to residents of Saudi Arabia for the second year amid Covid-19, there will only be 60,000.

“To me, it’s unimaginable that Haj is performed by a few thousand people,” said Mohammed, a Dubai resident who went to the holy city with his parents, wife, and sister’s family.

UAE residents who had been on a Haj pilgrimage before Covid-19 consider themselves ‘blessed’ to have performed it under normal conditions — without the mandatory face masks and the strict social distancing norms, among other rules.

“Every time I see any update on the Haj pilgrimage, I am thankful to Allah for inviting me to perform the pilgrimage in 2019,” said Indian expat Sonia Salim, who lives in Ras Al Khaimah.

Sonia, along with her husband, was among the last batch of pilgrims who experienced Haj normally before the pandemic.

“We did not have any fear of not mixing with the crowd. It was a great feeling to perform haj amidst a crowd of various other cultures,” she said.

Sonia planned for Haj in 2020, but her mother advised her to do it in 2019 instead. “Everything fell in place. If I have not gone in 2019, I would have been disappointed as the situation is completely different from pre-covid times.”

Dr Mohamed Shafeeq, internal medicine specialist at Dubai’s Medeor Hospital, feels thankful, too, as he was able to do the pilgrimage with his wife.

“The feeling of performing Haj in a space of cultural diversity is a feeling that cannot be expressed. I am really thankful to the Almighty for keeping me in the last batch to perform Haj in pre-pandemic times,” Dr Shafeeq said.

Ensuring the safety of everyone is one of the main doctrines of Islam. Deadly epidemics must be dealt with wisely to guarantee public safety and curb their spread across Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.” This is a clear law on how to deal with epidemics.

UAE residents believe that with the strict safety rules that the world had to adopt because of the coronavirus, pre-Covid and post-Covid Haj may not be the same.

“The rush, the spiritual and public unity in performing rituals...that was special,” Mohammed said.

“Though there was crowding, people really cooperated with each other in helping the other perform rituals. There, we were all brothers and sisters in the truest sense...despite being from different corners of the globe,” he added.

Sonia said that the cultural diversity had, in a way, connected her to her Muslim brothers and sisters living in various parts of the world. With social distancing in place, that profound connection could be missing, she added.

Performing haj is a unique experience of cleansing the body and the soul. UAE residents are hoping for the Covid situation to improve so they can be allowed to go on the pilgrimage next year.

“I hope and pray that Haj is open for devotees around the world as it was held pre covid times,” said Dr Shafeeq.

Mohammed believes Haj is a spiritual call. “You can go only if Allah wills it for you.”

He added: “Right now, the Covid situation is still grim and Saudi Arabia has taken the right step in limiting the number of pilgrims. This way, the blessed Haj is not cancelled and pilgrims remain safe.”

Sonia agreed, saying: “At this unprecedented times, pray to your lord to invite you to the holy masjids and perform Haj. Your mind has to be in sync with the body and when the time is right, Allah will surely invite the blessed believers.”

For those who are raring to perform Haj, Mohammed said: “Your niyyath (intent) will get you there eventually, Allah willing. Either way, it’s all for khair (good). Remain patient and believe in His divine will.”

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