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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Emirati pilgrims set off for Hajj

Preparations are under way as Emirati pilgrims depart for Hajj

Muslim worshippers perform the evening prayers at the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca.  Bandar Al Bandani / AFP Photo
Muslim worshippers perform the evening prayers at the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca. Bandar Al Bandani / AFP Photo

As thousands of Emiratis make their way to Mecca to perform Hajj, travel agencies have begun preparations to welcome them, including issuing umbrellas that spray water to keep worshippers cool.

Hajj-goers had the option of cheaper rates this year following regulations introduced by the UAE Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments (Awqaf).

The registration system was also digitalised with anyone wishing to perform Hajj this year having to submit an electronic application.

Upon approval of their application, pilgrims could choose from a list of approved travel agencies compiled by the authority.

“The electronic system lists the rates of each agency, so this created competition driving them to lower their rates,” said Rifat Al Badawi, a pilgrims’ supervisor at Al Bateen agency.

Under the previous system, pilgrims would have to visit an agency to be issued a Hajj permit.

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Read more:

Hajj 2017: All you need to know

Hajj: Saudi Arabia's duty and right

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Despite the new system Mr Al Badawi said the agency where he works registered 120 pilgrims as usual. The cap for each agency is 150.

This year also Awqaf made it mandatory for all agencies to take their pilgrims to the UAE official mission’s designated sites in Mina, Arafa and Muzdalefa.

“Previously agencies had the option to choose a private site where they could charge higher for better services,” Mr Al Badawi said.

“Changing the site location does not suit all pilgrims because there won’t be extra special services. Each pilgrim used to choose a package based on their budget.”

Nonetheless, Mr Al Badawi says his agency continues to offer a VIP package in addition to a more economical one. The rates range between Dh 28,000 and 40,000.

“It differs based on the type of hotel they will stay at in Mecca, and if they will fly on business class.”

Pilgrims registered with the agency where Mr Al Badawi works depart for Saudi Arabia on Saturday. He said they have prepared all the hotel rooms, transport buses and “umbrellas that splash water to beat the heat”.

“Each pilgrim will find a bag waiting for them at the room, which includes extra towels, Ihram essentials like clothing for the men, and non-scented soap, and the bags for the pebbles,” he said.

Mira Mohammed, a 28-year-old government employee, is one 1,670 Emirati women who will perform Hajj this year.

It is the first time she will be making the pilgrimage and said she has been studying the pillars ahead of her departure on Saturday.

“I made sure I am aware of all the obligations, I have also been looking at favourable things to do during those blesse days, and the bets dua’a to make,” she said.

“I wanted to go to Hajj for a while, but it only worked out this year. I believe that Allah calls you for hajj once it’s the right time for you.”

Ms Mohammed has performed Umra several times in the past so knows what to expect but said she has been told it will be more of a struggle to perform Hajj due to the increased volume of pilgrims.

“There will be a struggle in everything’” she said.

“I have been advised by Hajj pioneers to remain focused, avoid disputes and tension, be humble in everything, and have good faith in Allah.”

Aysha Al Mazrouei decided to take advantage of her current financial capabilities and single status to perform the religious obligation this year.

“I decided to go to Hajj now, basically because it’s the right time for me, I don’t have any responsibilities now or any children so it is easier for me to go now,” the 27-year-old said.

“It is also the right time because I have good company, I am going with my father and sister and it is something that we will have to do at least once in our lifetime.”

“And I don’t have any obstacles. I am healthy I don’t have children, I just need to take time off from work,” she said.

Ms Al Mazrouei has performed Umra multiple times and so did not see the need to make any preparations for Hajj.

“I’ve been to Umra so many times, and I kind of have an idea about what it is like, and my father has been three times there, so we discuss with him what we need.”

“I also asked other women for advice because maybe there are certain things that I need to keep in mind as a woman.”

Nonetheless, she does not expect it to be easy.

“I expect it to be difficult of course because it’s not like Umra but I don’t have those fears that I will struggle because I am ready to do whatever it takes because this is important to me and I know that maybe it is my first and last time to do it.”

Veteran pilgrims have already warned her of the “super crowded” conditions, and that she needs to watch where she goes and avoid any accidents.

“In the past people have stepped on each other and people have fallen down. I just need to be careful, that’s what people tell me at least.”

She said e-registration was smooth and made the process easy.

“I think it is more feasible, And the financial options vary, depending on what you want, maybe for some people it is a lot but it is worth it.”

“I heard that the prices range between ten thousand and forty thousand, but for me I chose the average which is only twenty thousand.”

Awqaf chief Dr Mohammed Al Kaabi previously announced that the minimum rate for Hajj has dropped to Dh9,200, and rates in general have dropped by 50 per cent due to the competitive electronic system.

The UAE Hajj quota has also been expanded to 6,228 from 4,631 the year before. A total of 17,500 Emiratis applied of which 13,000 were novices.

Saudi authorities limited the quota to Emiratis only.

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