Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

Last of the UAE's returning pilgrims feel 'reborn' after Hajj

Hundreds return to Abu Dhabi after a week of discovery and sacrifice

The final pilgrims to have completed their journey from the holy city of Makkah for Hajj arrived safely back in the Emirates on Saturday following a week of discovery and sacrifice.

As the last flight landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, many described similar experiences of joy and solidarity.

“To be in a position to help others made it all the more special for me.”

Ahmed Abdulla Bin Tooq, a Hajj volunteer

Despite the scorching 45°C temperatures, only briefly punctuated by torrential downpours in Mina on the first day of Ayyam Al Tashreeq, it was a safe Hajj for most of the 2.5 million pilgrims who journeyed to Saudi Arabia last week.

Ahmed Abdulla Bin Tooq, an Abu Dhabi horse trainer, works with the Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination to aid pilgrims during Hajj.

“It was my first Hajj, but it was extra special to be working with the government helping special needs people,” he said.

“I have been advising them on how they will handle their Hajj safely, how they can get there by train to ensure they have the best opportunity to get the most out of their pilgrimage.

“Our aim was to try to make life a little easier for people with disabilities from UAE who wanted to make their own journey.”

In what can be a chaotic week of confusion and hardship, with stifling heat and cramped conditions due to the huge numbers descending in Makkah, a little help along the way is vital to make the Hajj a special experience for all.

Hundreds of volunteers from within Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere stationed at Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah eased the flow of pilgrims.

“Hajj is such an important part of our religion — we must all try to do it once in our lifetime,” said Mr Bin Tooq.

“To be in a position to help others made it all the more special for me.

“Everything was well-organised and there was plenty of water to help us all deal with the heat.

“To be somewhere with 2.5 million people trying to do the same thing made it a challenge, but movement was easy and the Saudi Arabian government helped by making wheelchair access easy at the train stations.

“I would like to go again next year to help out if I can.”

Health authorities reported no new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the contagious flu like virus linked to camels, during the Hajj period.

Since Saudi Arabia’s first reported Mers case in 2012, the pilgrimage has been associated with a spike in infections due to the huge movement of people from around the world.

The World Health Organisation recorded 820 deaths in 27 countries from 2,357 confirmed Mers cases.

Although there is no current vaccine, pilgrims were offered advice on how to stay healthy ahead of the journey.

Dr Amgad Elkholy, a specialist in infectious hazard management in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean office, said early indications suggest that advice had been taken.

“This year’s Hajj season ended safely without any detected outbreaks or cases of MERS CoV reported,” he said.

“Camel movement was prohibited within Hajj areas and implementation of the standardised infection control measures in the hospitals and health facilities has been successful.

“Health education, risk communication and the Health Early Warning System (HEWS) are examples of the interventions successfully made.”

Faisal Al Kaabi, an Abu Dhabi police officer, visited Makkah with his family and said the experience signaled a new chapter in his life.

“Hajj is an important journey for Muslims to take, not just in the Emirates, but for everyone,” he said.

“Hajj is like being re-born, it is a new page in our lives.

“As Muslims, it is all the best things in our lives happening at once and we feel like a newborn baby afterwards.

“It was very hot, and there were many people there but the organisation was very good, this made it an enjoyable experience.”

Abu Dhabi International Airport was the scene of joyous unity, as families greeted their loved ones who had made the journey during Dhul Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar.

Many were welcomed with dates, Arabic coffee and chocolates to celebrate their return.

Extra luggage trolleys were on-hand to deal with the influx of returning pilgrims, and extra taxis and special transport were called in as flights arrived at Terminal 2.

“Hajj is a highly important religious journey for Muslims, and one that can also be physically demanding,” said Ahmed Al Shamsi, acting chief operations officer at Abu Dhabi Airports.

“We have implemented a series of measures across the airport to ensure the needs of every pilgrim are met, and hopefully minimise the stress of travel for all those returning from Hajj.”

Updated: August 17, 2019 05:31 PM

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