DUBAI // Fifteen former drug addicts hope to wash their sins and be forgiven when the Government sends them to Mecca for Haj as part of their rehabilitation.
"This trip is a gift from God. I was praying for it to happen, I was praying to be able to see the Kaaba and wash my sins there," said a 34-year-old Emirati man in the rehab programme, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Every year millions of Muslims visit Mecca and Madina in Saudi Arabia to perform Haj rituals. This trip is believed to remove people's sins and make them as pure and free of mistakes as when they were born.
The 15 men are scheduled to leave for Mecca tomorrow and they have all pledged to come back stronger and avoid a return to drugs.
"I want to continue with my new life. I do not want to go back to prison or make my family go through what we have gone through in the past," said a 32-year-old man who had been addicted to drugs since he was 16. "It all hit me when my first daughter was born while I was in prison. It was like a lesson for me. I understood that I just could not continue this way."
"This trip is part of our efforts to help these people. It will help them enhance their belief, 'wash' their sins and start a new beginning," said Dr Juma Al Shamsi, head of awareness and precaution at the Dubai Police anti-narcotics department.
Former drug addicts were first sent to Haj, courtesy of the Government, in 2009. Since then, 22 former addicts have been sent to Saudi Arabia.
"Not a single one of those has gone back to addiction," Dr Al Shamsi said.
The 34-year-old Emirati said he had been addicted to different types of drugs since he was 12, when he started using hashish. He later developed an addiction to heroin, has been sentenced to prison eight times and served more than seven years in total behind bars.
"Fighting addiction is a long battle, but if a person is committed and promises himself to success, it will work. The most important thing is to be sincere with yourself and to be serious with your intentions," he said.
This year's trips are being sponsored by the Awqaf and the Dubai Islamic Humanitarian Foundation, which paid a total of Dh283,000.
"The main condition to perform the Haj is to pay for it from legitimate money. The police's money is guaranteed to be legitimate, so therefore I decided to take part in this particular trip," said another former addict, a 28-year-old Emirati.
The man, now a manager at a company, started using hashish when he was 19 and was arrested last year. He and another friend served two months of their four-year sentence because they were pardoned, but their time in prison was enough to make them realise it was not the type of life they wanted to lead.
"We were both not really that dependent on drugs ... but when we saw how people there have lost their lives, I decided that it did not pay to become a drug addict," he said.
Another man in the group said he had been using heroin for only two weeks when he was arrested.
"I thank God every minute that I was nabbed after such a short time, as I did not develop an addiction to heroin," said the 31-year-old Emirati, who is married and has two children. He served a year in prison.
"When I was in prison, I did not do anything but pray and asked God to forgive me," he said. "I was lucky, as I did not struggle with any withdrawal symptoms or take even a tablet of Panadol when I stopped taking heroin."