DUBAI // After his first Hajin 2008, Abdullah al Suwaidi says his life completely turned around.
Relationships with members of his family became stronger, his business improved and he felt as though he had been born again - like everything was "clear inside my heart".
Since that first pilgrimage, the businessman from Sharjah has returned to Mecca to perform the Haj every year, with plans to continue for as long as he is able.
"I feel very happy. My life was changed, so I want to come every year," he said, speaking by telephone from Saudi Arabia. "All of the doors that were locked before were open to me. Everything from my relationships with my wife and family, to my work."
On his first Haj he was accompanied by his wife, and on his second pilgrimage he travelled with his father. Last Friday, Mr al Suwaidi, his brother and five friends left Sharjah in two cars bound for Mecca.
"We woke up early in the morning and left at around 6am, and reached Riyadh at around 7pm that night," he said. "Early the next morning, we left again for Mecca."
Mr al Suwaidi, 54, is one of several thousand pilgrims who travelled from the UAE to Saudi Arabia for the world's largest pilgrimage.
The thousands from the UAE joined more than three million others who converged on Mount Arafat on Monday for the climax of the annual pilgrimage.
Mr al Suwaidi, his brother and friends joined the throngs of white-robed pilgrims who set off before dawn that day en route to the top of the hill also known as Jebel al Rahma, or the Mount of Mercy.
Mr al Suwaidi, a father of five daughters and one son, said he and his friends met many people from the UAE and around the world since arriving for the Haj. "It's so nice to see all of the new faces here in one place," he said.
Dr Mohammed al Kaabi, the director general of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, also known as Awqaf, said yesterday that officials accompanying the UAE mission had worked to address various complaints raised by pilgrims.
"Most complaints centre on crowded accommodation," WAM, the state news agency, reported him saying. "The committees at the Haj mission provided suitable alternative places to them."
Mohammed al Mazrouei, the head of the UAE mission, said the pilgrims from the UAE were safe and well.