One of the key roles in the successful completion of Haj rituals by the Indian and South Asian pilgrims was that played by the army of volunteers who arrived in Mina on the second day of Haj.
The volunteers, numbering nearly 2,000, belonged to different social and cultural forums such as the Indian Pilgrim Welfare Forum (IPWF), Jeddah Haj Welfare Forum, India Fraternity Forum (IFF), Kerala Muslim Cultural Congress (KMCC) and the Risala Study Circle. The best part is that despite all of them coming from India, they do not restrict themselves to just helping the Indians. On any given day at the Haj, Arab News saw the volunteers rendering help to all nationalities just as the incredible Saudi Boy Scouts.
The volunteers had the complete support of the Indian Consulate and its closely affiliated Indian Pilgrim Welfare Forum. The entry of the volunteers into Mina and their accommodation facilities were all organized by the Indian mission. From the pilgrims’ point of view, the presence of these volunteers at key junctions in the tent city of Mina was a source of relief and assurance.
The India Fraternity Forum was among the most organized. Having been at the Haj for a number of years now, its volunteers seem to have mastered the art of providing the right kind of help to the pilgrims. They were easily identifiable by their blue T-shirts and the saffron-colored jackets provided by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY).
The primary job of the volunteers is to take care of the elderly pilgrims, especially those who lose their way in Mina while performing the challenging rituals. There were thousands of such pilgrims, both men and women, especially from South Asia who had lost their way or had become separated from their spouses or groups.
The IFF volunteers were the ones the pilgrims turned to in their time of distress. These volunteers not only rose to the occasion as they always do during Haj, but they would ensure that they were dropped at the doorstep of their camps.
According to IFF’s chief coordinator Mohammed Ashraf Morayur and deputy coordinator Basheer P.K., they got immense support from the Indian Consul General Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, Haj Consul B.S. Mubarak, IPWF President Kader Khan and General Secretary Saleem Quadri. “We couldn’t have done anything without their active support. They were on the ground with us and we coordinated all our activities with them,” Morayur told Arab News.
For the first time this year, the IFF fielded 40 women to help women pilgrims. “In all, IFF had more than 1,000 volunteers. They came from different Saudi cities such as Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Abha and Tabuk,” said Morayur. “These Indian expatriate volunteers came from 11 different states and spoke 11 different languages," he said and clarified the perception that the IFF is a Keralite group was not correct.
“The map that was used to locate Indian camps in Mina was actually designed by the IFF and printed by the Indian Consulate in large numbers. The map had clear instructions of the exact location of the Indian camps in Mina. More than 3,000 such maps were printed on glossy paper. These are no ordinary maps. They are tailor-made for locating South Asian camps,” Morayur added.
As reported earlier, pilgrims get disoriented because of the sea of tents in Mina and they find hard to locate their camps because of the huge mass of pilgrims.
“The IFF volunteers are not just any expatriates. They are actually taken on board after a thorough screening process. Those who have performed Haj before and those who are aware of the topography of the holy sites are given preference,” said journalist Ahmed Kutty, who was among the first ones to come up with the idea of voluntary services at Haj eight years ago. “Once selected, the volunteers are then given adequate training in handling cases of missing pilgrims and elderly persons.”
The volunteers work a 12-hour shift each. When one batch is tired, it is replaced by another batch. The clearly identifiable jackets for them are provided by WAMY. In addition they have a large number of wheelchairs. “It is always a pleasant sight to see the IFF volunteers succeed in taking the lost pilgrims to the right camps,” said Javed Ahmed, an Indian pilgrim. “The lost pilgrims on reaching the right tents almost always break down into tears and shower heaps of praise on the volunteers.”
“This is our reward,” said Morayur. “We consider this to be our small contribution to the pilgrims. Our only quest is to earn their blessings. Nothing more, nothing else.”
By Siraj Wahab