As pilgrims prepare for Haj, government agencies are busy setting up facilities at the key sites of Arafat and Mena. Haneen Dajani joined the head of the UAE Haj mission, Mohammed Al Mazrouei, on his visit to check preparations.
UAE Haj mission surveys facilities before pilgrims arrive
Men were setting up tents and toilets in every corner. Some scraped sand off the ground, some carried poles, another stood on a shaky ladder, striking a fine balance.
Pilgrims will head here, to Arafat, on the 9th day of Dhu Al Hijja (October 25) and stay from noon until sunset. The Day of Arafat is believed to be the best day of the year to pray to Allah, but before the pilgrims arrive, governments and Haj agencies must do their best to make them comfortable.
On Tuesday, the site looked like a grassless park with a few trees doted around. Tent poles were lined up everywhere. Work on some tents had almost finished, while work on others had barely begun.
In some tents, chandeliers were hanging, while officials walked around the camp, checking blueprints and discussing how best to make pilgrims comfortable.
"The women's toilets should have a barrier in front," said Mohammed Al Mazrouei, head of the mission, as the group passed a number of caravan toilets.
Another member suggested they would be better placed on the other side. Elsewhere, a discussion on air-conditioning was underway.
As we journeyed on to Mena - a couple of minutes away by car when there is no traffic - newly built bright pink and blue buildings could be seen at the side of the road. "Those are the new toilets," explained our driver.
Mena appeared to be a huge land from the past, with countless tents extending to the horizon.
"Each agency used to set up their own tents randomly but after a fire one year the Saudi government built permanent ones and now rents them out to agencies," the driver said.
The UAE's site at Mena, which will host pilgrims the night before the Day of Arafat until the third day of Eid, is like a VIP area compared with its neighbours.
In one of the tents, new toilets, still wrapped in plastic, were lined up on the floor. These were some of the 100 modern, sanitised devices added by the UAE mission to replace the more utilitarian ones provided by the Saudi government, which are little more than a hole in the ground.
Turkish red carpets furnished the ground of the rooms, which come in a variety of sizes to suit families.
Walking through the corridors of the site, it was easy to get lost in its mazelike interior, despite its numerous signs and numbered units.
"There will be balloons with numbers to guide people as well," Mr Al Mazrouei said.
Both camps are expected to be ready in three days.
So far, 1,050 UAE pilgrims have arrived with 17 agencies. The last of this year's UAE pilgrims could arrive on the Day of Arafat.
Dr Farouk Hamada, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi's religious adviser, explained that this was part of Islam's flexibility.
Pilgrims with less time available to them can perform "Haj saree" or fast Haj, and may arrive as late as the Day of Arafat itself, he explained.