Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Muttawifs... Making Hajj Easier

CAIRO — The Saudi government might manage hajj but a few number of young Muttawifs (hajj guides) strive to make the annual journey much easier for nearly three million Muslims. "We take control of the pilgrim from when he first puts his foot on the soil of Makkah," Imad Abdullah, a Muttawif, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday, November 23. Muttawifs are deployed in the holy cities of Makkah and Medina to organize and help pilgrims.
Their main task is to make sure that people who have waited a lifetime to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, do that easily.
"We organize the shelter, food, transport, the rituals, and try to resolve any problems that come up," said Abdullah.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim -- who can financially afford the trip -- must perform hajj once in their lifetime.
Muttawifs also organize visits to important sites and help the pilgrims with their shopping trips so they can return home with gifts and souvenirs.
Knowing foreign languages is a particular asset for a Muttawif and many excel in the tongues of the region they handle.
Around three million pilgrims from over 160 countries are expected to perform hajj this year, which will climax on Thursday, November 26, when the faithful ascend Mount `Arafat.
While serving the pilgrims Muttawifs encounter many funny and difficult situations.
"It's magnificent," said Abdullah recalling many times when pregnant women whom he was accompanying gave birth during hajj.
"But it makes the job complicated, because we have to take them to hospital."
He also remembers the story of a pilgrim who was mentally unbalanced.
"But under the effect of the intense heat in Makkah and the spirituality of the place, he ended up recovering his senses."
Though a grueling job, thousands of young Saudis, both men and women, seek to become Muttawifs.
The job has proved lucrative with a Muttawif making from 800 to more than 5,000 dollars for a few days' work depending on his/her experience.
Helping foreigners who do not speak Arabic to navigate through the lengthy hajj ritual is an old business that remained undisciplined until the 1930s.
Then King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, organized the families that controlled the business into six companies, each with rights to handle pilgrims from a specific region.
Abdullah's family, in the business for 150 years, is part of one of the companies.
"Our sons will inherit the job," said Abdullah, who has been specialized in helping Southeast Asian pilgrims for 30 years.

Source: IslamOnline

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