The world must learn the art of crowd-control from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

By: Ashraf Ali Bastavi

Asia Times Desk

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All praise to Allah, Who bestowed His Grace upon me to visit His House and also perform the Hajj. No amount of praise for the Beneficent Lord is sufficient as He blessed me with His Special Mercy. I am also grateful to the Ministry of Media, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who gave me this opportunity, invited me to be their guest and honoured me. They served me with care and respect. May Allah reward them the utmost for that. Undoubtedly, this journey was a fulfilment of my longstanding dream. Every year as the Hajj-season would draw near, the urge to visit the Kaaba would increase. I would request my friends and relatives going for the Hajj to take my name near the Kaaba and pray that I too may be blessed with the opportunity to visit the House of Allah. At last, came the day when my prayers were answered by the Merciful Lord. Of late, my attention during the days of the Hajj would be centred on the news coming from the Holy Land. Of special interest to me would be the news coming out from the “Indian Hajj Mission” based in Jeddah. I would extract news from their daily updates on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and then publish it. Since the last three years, I would monitor the gathering of the faithful on Mount Arafat and listen to the Sermon from Masjid-e-Nimrah. I would go online and cover the proceedings of Arafat on my news portal “Asia Times”. For the first time in 2016, I succeeded in publishing the Sermon of Arafat in Urdu language – “live”, which was highly appreciated by the readers of Asia Times.

My journey started in the evening of 4th August 2019 from New Delhi, after receiving an invitation from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in India. On the 5th of August at 4 am, I reached Jeddah. I was received at the airport by an official of the Ministry of Media, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who greeted me warmly. He took me to the airport lounge and after resting for a while I was lodged in the splendid Hotel Movenpick – Jeddah. The guests who were journalists and senior media professionals from all over the world had started gathering already. Other than the days of the Hajj pilgrimage, we stayed at this place. Everyone relished and enjoyed the legendary Arab hospitality.

A Security person talking to media delegation

The media delegation was led by Advisor to the Minister of Information & Media, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Faheem Al Hamid. May Allah reward him much. He discharged his duty as a translator and as a friend, in the most excellent manner. He was in touch with everybody and would listen to and understand their problems. Mr Faheem had a wonderful talent of putting everyone at ease. He conducted meetings with government officials and royal dignitaries. The schedule of press conferences was very tight, but Mr Faheem always succeeded in arranging our timely attendance in them. I cannot fail to mention the love extended by the general supervisor at the Ministry of Media – Dr Khalid bin Abdulqader Al-Ghamidi. Talking us daily from our hotel to Mina, Arafat and other places he ensured that the entire media delegation had a hassle-free time during the journey. He would meet and greet every person individually and made us all feel at home.

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Hajj is a unique and once in a lifetime experience. Hajj is also a novel experience and the pilgrims go through different phases and levels of spiritual elevation. During our five day stay in the Hajj, I noted two specific things. One is the experience leading a “camp-life” and secondly, the opportunity to share and understand the problems, feelings and emotions of others. This five-day temporary stay (at Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat) as part of the Hajj pilgrimage has a deep significance and gives us a chance to learn a lot.

From the time we set foot on the land of the Hejaz, we began experiencing the preparations and arrangements made by the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. This experience grew larger in magnitude with every passing moment. Hundreds of thousands of security officials and multitudes of volunteers coming from all the corners of the globe contributed their utmost for the Hajj pilgrims.

“The system of providing security by the police is superb. How should traffic be controlled? One has to come here to understand and learn that from the Saudis. The government undergoes and conducts various innovative programs related to security, traffic, health and other issues. I found the officers in charge of controlling the traffic and other duties to be full of enthusiasm for service and affection for the pilgrims.”

Women cell in 911 headquarters

The temperature at Mina was 42 degrees Celsius. The scorching heat can be quite troubling for many. But then suddenly you realize that it is drizzling. These showers are created and released from the multitude of water-spray towers created along the pathways and other places. One cannot but appreciate and applaud the Saudi administration to see the volunteers and guards spraying water for the Hajj pilgrims to cool them down. It is a big relief from the excruciating heat of the sun. Wherever there was a possibility of the gathering of a crowd, suitable arrangements were made beforehand to regulate and control the situation.

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Earlier, there was only the ground floor to perform “rami” (stoning of the devil). People would return from the same path after performing “rami.” This would sometimes result in stampedes and loss of life. But now, four floors have been constructed at the “jamaraat” i.e. ground + 3. The roads to reach them and to move away from them are different. For example, a road from a section of tents (at Mina) goes to the ground floor of the complex at “jamaraat” and so the Hajj pilgrims after stoning the devil must turn left and take a U-turn to come back to their tents. Other tents reach the first floor and after stoning the devil, they have to move a little forward and take a U-turn. Similarly, people reach other floors from their respective tents and after stoning the devil, they take a U-turn after walking a safe distance from the place of “rami”. In this way, the crowd has been distributed over many floors and there is no possibility or danger of any stampede whatsoever. However, some immediately run towards stoning the devil because of which there is crowding at the front-end of the road. There is only one road to return that passes by Masjid-e-Kheef. Besides the officers who control the crowds, there are also designated volunteers who try and regulate the Hajj pilgrims. A person who loses his way from his designated path may contact any of the designated volunteers. They will ask for the Maktab Number and give directions according to the map. The discipline and patience of the police and volunteers on duty are worth watching. Having empathy and compassion for the Hajj pilgrims and looking after their convenience and comfort are uppermost in their minds. The expression of satisfaction and happiness that the police and volunteers gain after helping the Hajj pilgrim appears as if they have helped one of their relatives and close ones. The Hajj pilgrims are called the “Guests of Allah” and so we can see this warm hospitality extended to them repeatedly at almost all places.

The journey for training

The Hajj journey can also be called as, “the journey for training.” Visiting the “Harmain Sharifain” plays a very important role in the training and purification of every Muslim. Your training begins the minute you enter the ‘Haram’. Everybody considers the work of – “caring about others while bearing hardship yourself” as a privilege and a blessing. I experienced this first hand during the “Tawaf” (circumambulation around the Kaaba).

Among a group of Hajj pilgrims from Africa, someone poured the entire bottle of water on the head of another pilgrim thinking about providing him with some relief from the severe heat. This did not go down well with him, and he became angry. My colleague Pakistani journalist Shaukat Pracha immediately ran to the angry pilgrim and started wiping his face with his “ihram” (the white seamless pilgrim garb). This scene was worth capturing and shall be always etched in my memory. Immediately the words of the Hadith started pouring in my mind: “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body.

I my self in Jamrat during hajj rituals

When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever”.Such scenes of compassion and brotherhood can be seen everywhere during the Hajj. During the Tawaf, I would look around me and would become emotional looking at this picture of unity and kinship. Words of prayer would emanate: “O Allah! May this unity always remain in all spheres of our life. O, Allah! Call every Muslim to this excellent school of training!”

The helpline of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is 911. How the Saudi rescue teams operate under this helpline is not something many people know. We visited the headquarters of 911 Helpline. They have established a Special Hajj Cell here which remains active only during the days of the Hajj. All the important places of the Hajj are monitored 24×7 with the help of 5,900 cameras. The police deployed at the 911-HQ told us that the helpline is offered in 7 languages including Urdu. Every call is responded with suitable action within 45 seconds. A substantial part of the helpline is run by women. Besides this, the energetic work done by the officers at the Jeddah Airport to process the arrival of Hajj pilgrims was also exemplary. 300 immigration counters were running 24×7 at the airport. Yahya bin Abdur Rahman – the head of the force deployed at the Holy Sites told us that they had deployed 300 CCTV cameras which were monitored continuously day and night.

 

My personal experience: On the last day, the general supervisor at the Ministry of Media – Dr Khalid bin Abdulqader Al-Ghamidi spent a lot of time in the hotel and collected feedback from various journalists that had come as part of the media delegation from all over the world. Many offered their suggestions and recommendations based on their observations and experiences during the Hajj. My feedback was that the international media often gives a negative spin to the news coming out of the Kingdom. Especially, the various socio-economic changes happening as part of the Vision 2030 program are being presented in a spurious manner that is far removed from reality. In light of this, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must come up with a program that networks Muslim journalists from all over the world and apprises them about the events and developments in the Kingdom directly. This will enable the correct image of the Kingdom to be portrayed at the hands of these journalists in their respective countries.

“Even in India, which is a good friend of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Hindi media gives a negative spin to news from the Kingdom. We know that India is a country of 1.36 billion people and the language of 55% of its population is Hindi. In such a situation, negative images of the socio-economic and educational aspects of the Kingdom are being spread among all most half of India’s population. Special attention is required to counter this situation.

It is notable that the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to India – H.E. Dr Saud bin Mohammed Al Saty, who is based in New Delhi, has taken some initiatives in this regard. He has started the process of meeting with representatives of the media. Since April 2017, he has started a weekly newsletter that is regularly sent to the media. Mohammed Majid al Harabi the First Secretary deployed at the Saudi Embassy in India has also been working very hard. Still, the Hindi media of India needs sustained focus and efforts as it is the mother tongue of nearly half of India’s population and there are nearly 200 million Muslims in India.

The writer is a Delhi based journalist and  Founder Editor of distinguished read News Portal   Asia Times www.asiatimes.co.in

Can be contacted: 009891568632

E-mail:ashrafbastavi@gmail.com

 

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