The essential steps for a healthy Hajj

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A policeman sprays pilgrims with cooling water near Al-Haram Mosque. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Air conditioned comfort in the ‘Tent City’ of Mina, near Makkah. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Pilgrims in Makkah.
Updated 10 August 2018
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The essential steps for a healthy Hajj

LONDON: Today’s Hajj pilgrims will experience unprecedented comfort compared to those of even just 20 years ago. In the last decade the Saudi government has pumped billions of dollars into providing modernized services and amenities to accommodate the millions of Muslims who make the annual pilgrimage.

But the spirit of Hajj itself remains unchanged, said Rashid Mogradia, CEO of the Council of British Hajjis (CBH).
“Everything about getting to and staying around Makkah is easier now, thanks to streamlined systems and electronic processing, but the five days of Hajj are the essence of the journey and remain authentic,” Mogradia told Arab News.
Mogradia, who has completed the Hajj journey five times himself, will join around 25,000 fellow Brits this year as he once again travels to Makkah for the ultimate spiritual journey.
“When you’re in the barren desert and wearing nothing but two pieces of cloth, you leave the creature comforts behind. This is the real Hajj experience. It is ever challenging and spiritual,” he said.

Physical preparation
As the Hajj consists of a series of physically demanding rituals, pilgrims have to be in their best physical condition. Conducted over five days, it includes rigorous exercises such as the circular, counter-clockwise procession around the Kaaba, and the symbolic stoning of evil.
Mogradia advised: “There is a lot of walking involved, so it’s important to invest in decent footwear. Once you’ve bought the footwear, make sure you walk similar distances in the new shoes before you travel to Makkah.”
Zohra Sarwari, a California-based Muslim author and coach, recommends walking long distances before the Hajj. “You should walk at least two to five miles a day,” she said.
Her words are borne of hard experience: “When we did the Hajj it was just after my daughter had been born ... I had not exercised for almost two years. I thought because I was young it would be a piece of cake for me. Boy, was I wrong.”
Although she managed to walk “most of the way” from Makkah to Mina and back, she admitted: “Let’s just say I wanted a wheelchair due to the difficulty of it all,” she said.
The international life and business coach also recommends “doing cardio and being in shape” because this will make the Hajj experience easier and more relaxing.
She added: “It’s also important to eat healthily before the trip and on the trip itself to maintain energy levels. The food is very fattening in some of the Hajj packages. Go for the lighter items, you will find it easier to perform your Hajj properly without feeling exhausted.”

Prepping mind and soul
In the words of Dr. Aslam Abdullah, resident scholar at online Muslim community IslamiCity.org, the Hajj is “more than an adventure.”
“It is a journey into self-reflection and personality development. It’s an experience that allows Hajjis to live the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. It is a journey for learning the art of sacrifice; it allows pilgrims to connect with the divine,” he said.
“Many pilgrims prepare for decades before embarking on this journey … so when they experience any hardship at Hajj, they use the endurance and strength they have built over years to overcome it.”
Sarwari emphasized being spiritually and mentally steeled. “You are there to connect to your Creator, to appreciate all that you have, and understand the purpose of this life a bit more.”
The coach said pilgrims should read books and watch videos to learn about the process of Hajj beforehand. “This is so they understand what each step means, so that they know how to perform them and appreciate why we do them,” she explained.
Sarwari also said it is important to ask people about their experiences to get their thoughts on what to do and what to avoid during the trip.
The coach added that pilgrims should “clarify their intentions” before embarking on the Hajj.
“Personally, I didn’t use the phone except to let my dad know that we got there safely. I wasn’t there to talk on the phone, or record everything. I was there to connect to my Lord,” Sarwari said.
“I wanted to make sure I prayed on time, I did my dhikr (remembrances), read the Qur’an, helped others and taught the sisters. Immerse yourself in the moment and be there. Forget about the world while you’re there.”
Mogradia said Hajj pilgrims have a “moral obligation” to bring the experience back with them and share it with their community — Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
“Hajj (pilgrims) are guests of God and they should bring that experience back to the community. The Hajj experience shows that people from all corners of the world can actually get along,” said Mogradia.


Six dead in fire at Rohingya camp in Myanmar

Updated 1 min 53 sec ago
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Six dead in fire at Rohingya camp in Myanmar

  • The UN Human Rights Council has accused top Myanmar generals of genocide over the bloody campaign, allegations the country strongly denies.
  • Myanmar has vowed to close nearly 20 of the camps around Sittwe in the coming months.

YANGON, Myanmar: Six Rohingya were killed early Friday after a blaze tore through an overcrowded camp for the persecuted minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the local fire service said.
Global attention has focused on the 720,000 Rohingya Muslims forced from the state’s north into Bangladesh last year by a brutal military crackdown.
The UN Human Rights Council has accused top Myanmar generals of genocide over the bloody campaign, allegations the country strongly denies.
But less visible are the 129,000 Rohingya confined to squalid camps further south near the capital Sittwe following an earlier bout of violence in 2012.
Hundreds were killed that year in riots between Rakhine Buddhists and the stateless minority, who were corralled into destitute camps away from their former neighbors.
The conflagration in Ohndaw Chay camp, which houses some 4,000 Rohingya and lies 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Sittwe, started just before midnight and lasted several hours, fire department official Han Soe told AFP.
“Six people, one man and five women were killed,” he said, adding that 15 communal longhouses were also destroyed in the blaze thought to have been started in a kitchen accident.
“We were able to bring the fire under control about 1:10 am this morning and had put it out completely by around 3 am,” he said.
A total of 822 people were left without shelter, local media reported.
Conditions in the camps are dire and Rohingya trapped there have virtually no access to health care, education and work, relying on food handouts from aid agencies to survive.
Access into the camps is also tightly controlled, effectively cutting their inhabitants off from the outside world and leaving their plight largely forgotten.
Fires in the camps are common because of “severe” overcrowding, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Many camp residents have built makeshift extensions to their shelters to create more space for their families. So when a fire breaks out, it is more likely to spread quickly,” said OCHA spokesman Pierre Peron.
Hla Win, a Rohingya man from a nearby camp, told AFP that fire trucks were slow to arrive along the dilapidated roads from Sittwe and the lack of water also hampered efforts to extinguish the blaze.
“We have no ponds near the camps,” he said. “That’s why the fire destroyed so much.”
Myanmar has vowed to close nearly 20 of the camps around Sittwe in the coming months.
Rights groups say the move will achieve little without ending movement restrictions or granting Rohingya a pathway to citizenship.