ABU DHABI// Among the millions on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca this year, 1,000 will have their expenses paid for by a foundation set up by the UAE’s founding father Sheikh Zayed.
The Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation spends Dh20 million each year to make the Haj possible for those with limited financial means.
“It is the will of Sheikh Zayed that the foundation will, every year, send about 1,000 persons for pilgrimage; 600 inside the UAE and 400 from all over the world,” said Ahmed Shabeeb Al Dhaheri, the director general of the foundation.
“This year we have reached out to 43 countries.”
The foundation gives priority to applicants with a low income, the elderly and those who have never had the opportunity to perform Haj – a religious duty that every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to must undertake at least once.
Pilgrims travelling with the foundation will first head to Medina, the second holiest city in Islam after Mecca.
They will then be placed in accommodation close to the Grand Mosque and other notable sites in Mecca.
Mr Al Dhaheri said the foundation funds every aspect of the 15-day trip, including flights and hotel accommodation.
“We pay for everything until they come back,” he said.
The foundation has sent 1,000 Muslims on the Haj every year since 2005. Before that, Sheikh Zayed personally funded the trip for hundreds of Emiratis in need since the UAE was formed in 1971.
“Pilgrimage is considered the fifth pillar of Islam. However, travelling is expensive – especially for somebody whose income is low,” said Mr Al Dhaheri. “That is why the foundation helps the needy go to the pilgrimage.”
Last year about three million pilgrims performed Haj.
Pilgrims chosen from Abu Dhabi gathered yesterday at the foundation’s headquarters on Airport Road as advisers set out a timetable for the trip next month and stressed the importance of health vaccinations.
Advisory sessions are being held in all emirates.
The World Health Organisation advises countries sending pilgrims to the Haj to increase surveillance for the Mers coronavirus that has killed more than 50 people in Saudi Arabia alone.
There have been 130 laboratory-confirmed cases and 17 suspected cases of the virus. It is not yet deemed a public-health emergency but there are concerns that the virus could spread because of the huge gathering of people from all parts of the world.