DUBAI // Among the 1.5 million Muslims performing the annual Islamic pilgrimage this year are a few hundred who have received the benevolent assistance of organisations in the UAE to make their travels possible.
Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, is the fifth pillar of Islam and a religious duty that every able-bodied believer must undertake at least once in their lifetime.
More than 600 Emiratis and 400 Muslims from other countries each year are being granted the opportunity to perform Haj through the Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation. The foundation follows the vision of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, who would frequently provide those with limited means the chance to make the pilgrimage.
"We accept applications from individuals over the age of 30 who have not performed Haj before," said a spokesman for the foundation's Haj committee. "Those who have a limited income, the elderly and widows are among those who are welcome to apply."
The foundation calls for applications towards the end of Ramadan and assesses the eligibility of every individual based on their personal circumstances and supporting documentation, such as salary certificates.
Some of the pilgrims being funded by the organisation are already in Mecca, while others are due to leave in the coming days. Although prices vary, it costs approximately Dh30,000 for one person to make the journey.
"Some people live on a limited income and they have a family to support, so they may not be able to perform Haj," said the spokesman. "We look after the needs of pilgrims and place them in suitable accommodation."
The Zakat fund, which distributes alms collected for the needy, has launched a similar initiative called Labaik this year and has selected 54 people from all nationalities to receive funds for the pilgrimage. According to a fund spokesman, the approximate cost to cover the group's travel needs was Dh1.5 million.
The fund takes into consideration the status of the applicant and tries to provide elderly people with the opportunity to perform Haj.
Shadi Yassine, who is in charge of the new Muslim department at the Islamic Information Centre in Dubai, has performed Haj three times and describes it as a life-changing event. Mr Yassine said 130 people converted to Islam at the centre last Ramadan and many showed a willingness to quickly fulfil their obligation.
"There are many new Muslims from various nationalities who have expressed their interest in performing Haj," he said. "Some of them are not able to afford the rising costs of going to Haj, especially those of them who are employees on a small income.
"It is something that you cannot describe and every time I have performed Haj it has been a new experience. It increases one's faith to see people from different races and nations coming together solely to worship Allah."
Young devotee finds inspiration
DUBAI // His youth was not a limiting factor for the devotion of Abdel Aziz Amin al Nazari, a 28-year-old Emirati who will perform Haj for the fifth time this year. He did not request funds to make the trip.
“I believe that young people who have the opportunity and intent to perform Haj should be encouraged to do so,” he said. “I lost a brother who was two years older a few years ago, so we can never be sure when our time will come.
“When we perform Haj, we find that regardless of where we come from or what we have, we all struggle through the experience for one intention only, to worship Allah.”