How Urdu became a major Hajj language in 2019

In this file photo, Muslim pilgrims speak to an Urdu translator in Makkah during Hajj on Aug. 17, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 August 2019
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How Urdu became a major Hajj language in 2019

  • The annual Muslim ritual is the most culturally diverse religious event in the world
  • Urdu is one of the top languages used to facilitate pilgrims in Saudi Arabia

LAHORE: The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah constitutes the world’s largest multicultural religious event, posing a significant challenge to the authorities in Saudi Arabia who are always trying to find innovative ways to make the spiritual journey of pilgrims as pleasant as possible.
The Kingdom deployed hundreds of youthful individuals who spoke different languages to assist people from various parts of the world at its airports in Makkah and Madinah this year. It also used mobile applications that could be operated by those performing Hajj in their own language.
Given the composition of pilgrims arriving from different countries, Urdu acquired tremendous significance at the annual Islamic event.
Pakistani nationals usually constitute the third largest group – after Saudis and Indonesians – participating in the event. This year alone 200,000 of them went to the Kingdom to attend the ritual.
Urdu is also accessible to many pilgrims from India who do not understand English or other Hajj languages used to manage the incoming traffic of devout Muslims.
In view of this fact, Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry launched a Twitter service to answer pilgrims’ basic questions in Urdu, along with 12 other languages. The service began with hundreds of tweets accompanied by the Arabic hashtag #Your_Hajj_in_your_Own_Language.
The Kingdom also launched the Arafat Sermon app, which offered live translation of the Hajj sermon in different languages, including Urdu.
The Hajj authorities also introduced two interactive apps that could be easily operated by speakers of Urdu language to help pilgrims, with a range of services on smart devices including help in finding emergency service centers, holy sites, currency exchanges, restaurants and accommodation.
For its part, Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry also tasked nearly 4,800 Pakistanis, including 88 women, to provide guidance, awareness and emergency services in Urdu to Hajj pilgrims from the country.
There were also other apps – such as the Mina Locator – designed in Urdu to help pilgrims find their tents and places of accommodation in Makkah and the holy sites of Mina and Arafat.


India defends blocking politicians from visiting Kashmir

Updated 25 August 2019
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India defends blocking politicians from visiting Kashmir

  • If everything is normal, asks opposition’s Rahul Gandhi, why are Congress leaders not allowed in Jammu and Kashmir
  • Hurriyat Conference has released its first official comment since the clampdown, calling for locals to resist New Delhi’s move 

NEW DELHI: Authorities on Sunday defended blocking opposition Indian politicians from visiting Muslim-majority Kashmir, saying it was to “avoid controversy” weeks after stripping the restive region of its autonomy and imposing a major clampdown.
India’s Hindu-nationalist government has been criticized by the main opposition Congress party over the contentious move on August 5 that brings Kashmir — which has waged an armed rebellion against Indian control since 1989 — under its direct rule.
The region remains under strict lockdown with movement limited and many phone and Internet services cut, although authorities say they have been easing restrictions gradually.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, still a key figure in India as a scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, was earlier invited by local governor Satya Pal Malik to visit Kashmir.
But a video released by Congress showed Gandhi questioning officials about why he was stopped from entering Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar at the airport on Saturday.
“The governor has said I’m invited. He has invited me so I have come but you’re saying I can’t go,” he said.
“And the government is saying everything is OK, everything is normal. So if everything is normal, why are we not allowed out? It is a bit surprising.”
Regional police chief Dilbagh Singh told AFP police supported the decision.
“In an environment that is getting to normalcy, we didn’t want any controversial statement from anyone. That’s why they were asked to return from the airport itself,” Singh said.
Malik told the ANI news agency he invited Gandhi out of goodwill but that he then politicized the issue.
The controversy came as key separatist group Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of local political parties, released its first official comments since the clampdown and called for locals to “resist at this critical juncture” New Delhi’s move.
“Each and every person must face the naked Indian brutality with courage ... People should organize peaceful protests and demonstrations in their areas of residence,” top separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani said in a statement obtained by AFP.
The Hurriyat Conference, which supports Kashmir’s right to choose whether it wants to be part of India or Pakistan, added that Pakistan and the wider Muslim community should “come forward to ... help the besieged people.”
The call came as India’s home affairs ministry refuted a report by India’s News18 television on Sunday that the region was running out of lifesaving medicines, saying supplies were “slightly higher than the monthly average.”