Weekend in MECCA

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Weekend in MECCA

Mohammed Wajihuddin / Times of India

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Many rich Muslims are ditching glam holiday spots and repeatedly flying to Mecca to perform umrah. But scholars and clerics dont approve

Mumbai-based banker has almost packed his bags for Mecca. No, he isnt joining the swelling ranks of Indian workers in the holy city or going to perform haj—he is going to get his sons wedding solemnised near Islams holiest shrine. And even as his son acquires a life partner and some blessings, he is eyeing a spiritual bonanza for himself too. He will perform umrah, the mini-haj, which promises to wash away past sins.

He belongs to a widening band of rich Muslims which is making Mecca its destination of choice and looks for excuses to travel there. Not for them the joys of exotic holiday spots like Honolulu, Bali or Greece—their crisp rolls of disposable cash consistently fund flights to Mecca for a ritual that doesnt last more than two hours and which, unlike haj, is not mandatory.

Hamed Patel of the Mohammed Ali Road-based Rapid Travels and Tours should know. Every year Patel carries
several batches of pilgrims to Mecca, including a batch called May Vacation. “This year there were 125 pilgrims who utilised the vacation of their children for umrah,’’ says Patel, who even took a couple of cooks along to make home-cooked food for the pilgrims.

Umrah tourism is now a booming business, with tour operators advertising easy transit, fabulous food and cosy accommodation for Rs 70,000 to Rs 1 lakh per pilgrim. Urdu dailies are making a fast buck
as more and more tour operators advertise their umrah packages.
“So far this year, more than 40,000 Saudi visas for umrah have been issued,’’ says Zakaullah Siddiqui of Indo-Saudi Travel Private Ltd which arranges for umrah visas. Abdur Rahman Milli, president of the Indian Haj-Umrah Tour Welfare Association, concurs, “The number of umrah performers has significantly increased in recent years.

Many pilgrims prefer to spend a
weekend in Mecca for umrah and travel to Medina for ziyarat (visit to the Prophets mausoleum and the holy mosque) and fly back home. A visit to Medina is not necessary for umrah or haj but is almost always on a pilgrims itinerary.’’
The trend, maintain many scholars, is robbing the ritual of its sanctity, turning the holy city into a picnic spot. “Islam encourages its followers to tour widely and see natures bounties.

But travelling is becoming a source of seeking fun,’’ says Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, adding that the Prophet had prophesied this when he disapprovingly said: A time will come when people will use haj and umrah for outings.

Umrah, which means to pay a visit, like haj, is a Islamic ritual. While haj is annual, umrah is a round-the year affair. For most Muslims, visiting Mecca at least once in a lifetime is a dream which many die chasing. But for the privileged in the community, umrah is a sacred sojourn frequently undertaken.

A Bandra-based businessman who requests anonymity (he says he is doing it to gain Allah’s blessings, not for publicity) is an obsessive umrah performer. He first performed umrah as a three-year-old toddler, clinging to his father’s hand. Now 57, he does not remember how many times he has performed it. In the last two years alone, he has visited Mecca 16 times to perform umrah.

“Many of my friends go to the Alps to soothe their nerves,’’ says the businessman. “I visit Mecca and Medina whenever I get a chance to escape from work. The more you see Kaaba and the Prophets tomb, the greater the desire to see them again.’’

Although there is no cap on performing umrah or haj, many feel the money spent by those who repeatedly perform
umrah could be directed instead to charity. “Those who keep going to Mecca for umrah should also think of the widows, orphans and unmarried poor girls in their neighbourhood,’’ says senior cleric Maulana Hassan Nadvi.
For the umrah, pilgrims go to Meekat, a place over 20 km from the boundaries of Haram Sharief or the holy mosque and Kaaba in Mecca. There they first perform tawaf, a circling of the Kaaba seven times; then follow it with a short prayer at Muqaam-e-Ibrahim, around ten feet from the Kaaba, the spot where Prophet Abraham is believed to have performed namaz.

They then walk seven times back and forth between the nearby hills of Safa and Marwah to commemorate Abrahams wife Hagars frantic search for water for their infant son, Ishmaeel, centuries ago. Legend has it that the famous zamzam well miraculously sprang up near a thirsty Ishmaeels feet.

After walking between the hills, a male pilgrim shaves his head or partially trims his hair while women chop off a little hair.
This completes umrah.

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Our Lord! grant us good in this world
and good in the hereafter,
and save us from the chastisement of the fire

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