x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Haj mission inspects lodgings in holy cities

UAE officials visit Mecca and Medina to inspect accommodation where thousands of haj pilgrims from the Emirates are expected to stay.

ABU DHABI // UAE officials have visited Mecca and Medina to inspect accommodation where thousands of haj pilgrims from the Emirates are expected to stay. The head of the UAE Haj Mission, Mohammed Obeid al Mazrouei, and other officials met the Saudi committee that oversees the Haj preparations. The committee must ensure the accommodation is suitable for people to live in for the duration of the pilgrimage.

"The UAE official haj mission was set up by the UAE Government to render the best services to pilgrims, as well as to smooth out any obstacles impeding the work of pilgrimage campaigns ahead of the start of the season," Mr Mazrouei said during his field inspections, the state news agency, WAM, reported. He said 153 accredited haj operators had leased 235 buildings in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, in co-ordination with the Saudi Arabian haj authorities, of which 228 buildings met hygiene standards set by the UAE's General Authority for Islamic Affairs.

Mohamed Rida, an agent at the travel agency Al Noreen for haj and umrah, said the inspections gave travel agents much-needed certainty. "We personally cannot be expected, each one of us as a separate travel agency, to visit Mecca every year to find accommodation and oversee it and make sure it will be what we promise our customers," he said. "They [the UAE Haj Mission] take over a lot of responsibility for us and by informing us what is suitable and what is not, we can take if from there."

The mission's officials also inspected makeshift camps in the tent city of Mina where pilgrims symbolically denounce evil by throwing pebbles at the three concrete pillars known as Jamarat. Last year, more than three million pilgrims performed the ritual. A similar number is expected this year. Approximately 6,000 people from the UAE (5,000 Emiratis and about 1,000 expatriates) will perform haj this year, according to an announcement in July by Hamad Al Mualla, Director of the Haj and Umrah Department, affiliate to the General Authority for Islamic Affairs.

This is a significant reduction from last year's quota of 17,000, comprising 10,000 Emiratis and 7,000 expatriates. The UAE quota was reduced by the Ministry of Haj in Saudi Arabia, which said it was to ensure better control of the masses expected in Mecca. For a list of UAE haj operators accredited by the Ministry of Haj in Saudi Arabia, visit www.hajinformation.com/main/n71u01.htm. hkhalaf@thenational.ae