Occupation: Saudi Arabian Minister of Hajj
"I was born in Makkah and grew up in Madinah, and Madinah was always full of hajjis [pilgrims]. They shared the city and the mosque with us. We grew up being with hajjis, looking at hajjis, hearing hajjis. When I was a young kid, they were objects of great curiosity: their different costumes, their food, their features. Everyone developed a feel for the Hajj, a built-in image that becomes part of you.
"This is one of the most interesting and challenging jobs. There is the international, cultural dimension, of course, and there is the human dimension. You find yourself feeling responsible for each and every hajji! You try to make sure that at the individual level they have the space and time and peace of mind to fulfill their duties. I don't want them to worry about schedules, tents or buses. We want to carry that burden, as smoothly and efficiently as possible, so that they can get what they are here for. Every moment I see that happening—that is the real inner satisfaction.
"It is the human element that I like most about this work. When you come to Hajj, you become your real self. People take off the layers of pretending, and you see real people as they truly are. People express themselves in the simplest ways: in the way they pray, in the way they find their spot in the mosque, how they react when they are waiting to finish their stoning, the way they ride the buses, the way they find their way to the Mount of Mercy.
"I wish we had more time. A year to prepare is just not enough. For example, if you wish to do an awareness workshop in some country, then to tailor the material to that culture, actually conduct the workshops and receive the feedback is a project that takes months. If you do this in a country like Nigeria, you have to break the process down further into six groups, for each of the regions of the country, reading the local culture and relating it to Hajj. Multiply this by the 60 to 100 countries that the hajjis come from, and you are talking about a task of Himalayan proportions."
Occupation: Professor of sociology, King 'Abd al-'Aziz University, Jiddah
Occupation during Hajj: Advisor for cultural affairs to the Minister of Hajj, director of the ministry's Department of Public Relations, Media Information and Hajj Awareness
"All my life I have been involved in Hajj one way or the other. After my graduate studies, I worked for more than 10 years with the Hajj Research Center. For the last three years I have been responsible for hosting the Hajj Cultural Seminar. We collect research papers and bring together Muslim scholars and intellectuals from the world over. Last year the theme was The Literature of Hajj.' The year before, it dealt with 'Sociocultural Communications' among hajjis.
"Hajj is as challenging and complicated a phenomenon as anything that can be studied in any religion. The anthropology, the sociology of Hajj hasn't been given the attention it deserves. If so many people rush to this place, and I live here, then as a sociologist I need to find out why. Hajj is really about humans encountering each other and leaving everlasting impressions on their fellow humans.
"Working in Hajj makes you more humanistic. In Makkah, during Hajj, you can never say, 'I am the host,' because you suddenly find you are the guest instead, or even a guest of the guests. Many hajjis can relate to the Hajj better than you can, and they have a better idea of what it means to be the guest of the Almighty. The people you meet during Hajj, you cannot judge them as they appear, because you can find a simple man, not well dressed, who is on a spiritual journey, and he may later turn out to be someone very rich or very famous.
"The universal spiritual message of Hajj is important to me, and I don't see the media coverage of Hajj communicating this. Hajj has its own uniqueness and consciousness, a deeper meaning. Many hajjis are so caught up in the spirituality of it all that they are literally unaware of the inconveniences they experience. They have one single objective: to have their Hajj accepted by the Lord."
Abdullah Al Dowairi
Occupation: Electrical engineer
Occupation during Hajj: Chairman of the Board of Directors, United Office for Zamzam, Makkah
"The Dowairi Family has been involved in the distribution of Zamzam water for many, many generations. Some of the families that distribute Zamzam water have been doing so since before the time of the Prophet. When I helped my father there were 120 zamazima families [the traditional distributors of Zamzam water]. Now there are more than 850, because the privilege of distributing Zamzam is passed on to the sons and daughters of the families.
"When I was young, before my father died, the zamazima were located inside the Holy Mosque at Makkah, in the cellar. Each family involved in the distribution of Zamzam had a room where they worked, filling big containers with Zamzam water for distribution to the hajjis throughout Makkah. I would give the hajjis Zamzam to bless their bowls and cups by rinsing them with the holy water. Many hajjis would also bring their burial shrouds and I would give them Zamzam to rinse them with.
"This year we took a huge step forward: We used to manually fill all the Zamzam containers that were delivered to the hajjis at their accommodations in Makkah, but this year we automated the process. We bottled more than 24 million liters [6,340,000 US gallons] of Zamzam water.
"The privilege of distributing the Zamzam to the hajjis is a great honor. When you come to my home as a normal guest, I am honored to welcome and serve you, but how about when you are serving someone who is a guest of God? It is the greatest honor.
"During the Hajj period, over four weeks, it is almost impossible to imagine that we are serving 6000 different buildings where the hajjis are accommodated, using 900 employees and 120 delivery vehicles, all to distribute 60,000 to 70,000 20-liter [5-gal] containers."
Osama Shobokshi, MD
Occupation: Saudi Arabian Minister of Health
"I have been the Minister of Health for the last seven years, and in that capacity I have been involved with the Hajj throughout. Before that, as a physician, I volunteered twice to serve the hajjis.
"My primary responsibility is to prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases. I am in contact with the World Health Organization, and I follow press reports to keep track of the incidence abroad of the various strains of meningitis, diphtheria, malaria, cholera and even Ebola. I evaluate the risk of people from those countries passing the infection to other hajjis. Through the cooperation with our colleagues in the health and foreign ministries in other countries, we perform mass vaccinations in the hajjis' countries of origin for diseases that might be prevalent at Hajj. When we are not sure that people are being vaccinated in their own countries before they come, we vaccinate them on their arrival.
"We have 14 hospitals in the Holy City of Makkah, including the several hospitals in Mina and 'Arafat that function only during the Hajj. We mobilize 9600 people from other sites and a fleet of ambulances, which we have built smaller so that they can move with the masses of people on the streets.
"During the days of Hajj I am ultimately responsible for the health care of every single hajji. For five days I am right in the middle of the turmoil, as a physician, as an administrator, as a cabinet minister and as a Muslim. That means that I go to all the primary health-care centers, assessing and ensuring that we are ready to respond before the need occurs.
"The gathering of people for Hajj is a foretaste of the Day of Judgment. In Hajj, all people are equal, and we are all asking God for mercy and forgiveness. If I see that the pilgrims return to their countries without any major health problems, I am happy."
Occupation: Secretary, Tan Tack Seng Hospital, Singapore
Occupation during Hajj: Volunteer Hajj escort, Murad Travel Agency of Singapore
"I am one of three female Hajj officers and three males who guide a group of three buses with a total of 125 pilgrims. Murad Travel offers to pay our way, but I don't accept the offer. When you help people, God is aware of what you are doing.
"Before Hajj, in Singapore, we arrange a weekly study group for all the individuals wishing to make Hajj. In Makkah, we arrange for some sightseeing before the actual rites, so that the pilgrims know where we will be going and what they will be seeing, like, where the Jamarat and the Holy Mosque are, and where to go shopping.
"We make sure that the pilgrims have enough food and that all of their health concerns are taken care of. Every morning and evening we staff a kind of information counter in the lobby of the hotel. Each person receives a detailed itinerary, but some of the old people don't understand. An important task that we do before we move from any location is to do a head count, to be sure that everybody makes it onto the bus."
Majed Al Johani
Occupation: Second-year business-administration student, Jiddah Technical College
Occupation during Hajj: Field services worker on contract to United Agents
"This is the first year I have worked for United Agents. I am hoping to submit my name again for next year. My job is different from day to day, depending on the hajjis who arrive at the Hajj Terminal. I guide and lead the hajjis, sort of as a tour guide would. I work every day, from 3:00 in the afternoon until 11:00 at night. That way I can do this job and attend school at the same time.
"During Hajj, every day after college, I go home, have a quick lunch and leave immediately for the Hajj Terminal. I punch in, and if we have hajjis arriving, I check their papers and make sure they are complete. I then guide them to their bus. Sometimes I help them transport their baggage from Customs to their bus. I work with all different nationalities of hajjis. Most of the ones that came through our section were from Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Thailand and Malaysia. The job gets tougher when we have a big crowd, but it's always hard work. We don't eat or rest, we only stop a short time for prayers.
"My work during Hajj is like any work, but the advantage is that you get blessings, because you are serving the guests of the Merciful [God], and the guests of the Merciful are our honored guests. Thank God, this is important to me."
Occupation: CEO, Express Foods Co., Ltd., operator of 24 Al Baik fast-food restaurants in Jiddah, Makkah and Madinah
"Our Hajj operation revolves around three outlets in Mina that are strategically located to serve hajjis. During Hajj, we serve one kind of meal only, our signature chicken-fillet nuggets: 10 large nuggets of whole-breast fillet with fries, a bun and ketchup, for 10 riyals [$2.67]. We begin serving at 9:00 a.m. and we don't stop until 3:00 a.m. the next day.
"No one in our team looks at what we do during Hajj as a job. It is a duty that we have been blessed with: to provide the millions of hajjis coming to Makkah with clean, great-tasting food at an incredible value—fast. The honor to serve hajjis can never be translated into monetary gains. It is worship. It is a duty.
"About a month before Hajj, the municipality gives us the green light to begin site preparation; by then we've already designed everything and our contractors have their orders. The plots assigned are incredibly small, because in the Mina area every square inch needs to be utilized to the maximum. Over the five days of Hajj, we require hundreds of trained employees who have the stamina to work 18-hour days. The challenge is where to find them, when to train them, where to house them. Then the Mina area becomes a no-drive zone about five days before Hajj, except for a limited number of delivery trucks, so delivering to the outlets is a challenge.
"During Hajj I become a coach, a cheerleader, a quality and service auditor, a crowd controller, a 'fries man,' a 'packer' or whatever. Our guys are champs and I love the fact that I am there with them, getting my feet swollen the same way they are."
Muhammad Al Andjany
Occupation: Computer technology student, Makkah Technical College
Occupation during Hajj: Monitor for the Ministry of Hajj
"We monitors work for one and a half months. For the days before and after Hajj I stay in my apartment in Makkah, and for the five days of Hajj I stay with the other teams in a tent in Mina in the Ministry of Hajj compound. This was my first year, but I want to do it again, God willing.
"The murakibs, the monitors, are divided into two groups, one for Mina and the other for 'Arafat. With the others in my team, I keep watch over all the movements of the hajjis. We work in pairs. Our supervisor directs us to the location we will be monitoring. Sometimes we see crowding that is out of the ordinary, or a fire, or problems between two hajjis, or buses that are delayed, or traffic jams. If action needs to be taken, we contact our supervisor, who contacts the security forces by radio. Then we direct the responders to where the problem is happening.
"Before the actual days of Hajj, we work in Makkah around the Haram [Holy Mosque]. We check out the hotels and make sure they are following all the safety rules, like fire escapes, building guards, fire extinguishers and lights.
"Everything having to do with this job is great. It is fun to be with other guys my age. The pay is not bad, either!"
Ali Muhammad Zahrani
Occupation: Helicopter flight engineer, Royal Saudi Air Force
"This is my third time on Hajj duty. It is a great honor, as most people don't get to do this. Throughout Hajj we are responsible for transporting people, like journalists and others serving the hajjis. We fly surveillance flights for the different governmental agencies that provide services and oversee Hajj. If there is unusual crowding or jams, we can see it first from the air.
"In the morning, after I get up and pray, I go to check the aircraft, check instruments, check the levels. We make sure that the helicopter is secure and clean. We get a briefing from the pilot about the mission. Then my responsibility is the passengers. I make sure that you are safe, properly secured and not afraid, so that you can do your job properly. I fly one or two missions a day. When we aren't flying we are on duty on the ground.
"This year my 22-year-old son and my 17-year-old daughter made Hajj. After I finished my missions, I visited them in their camp, and sometimes I spoke to them on their cell phone.
"I have been flying for 27 years. I enjoy seeing people trust me for the job that I am doing. We have a large and good crew. I am an old man now, so everyone respects me and listens to my orders, and they compete to make it easy for me."
Occupation: General Manager, Ministry of Hajj, Makkah Branch
"I grew up in the Ajyad District of Makkah. Every year, as far back as I can remember, I used to go with my father to Hajj. We would rent a car and take the whole family. My father was a publisher and owned a bookstore, like my grandfather and my great-grandfather before him. Hajj was the season for us, selling Qur'ans and all other types of books.
"Today, I supervise the private companies that provide direct services to hajjis. This includes the six mutawwaf [guide] offices and the zamazima [providers of Zamzam water]. My job is to make sure that all the services meet Ministry standards. We also have the monitoring committees, a fleet of cars and people walking in the streets and the camps. They make sure that all the services are according to the agreed standards.
"On the Day of 'Arafat, I was in my office in the morning. By the afternoon I was in 'Arafat and visited all the mutawwaf establishments in their camps. After 'asr [the afternoon prayer], I went back to my office for a quick nap, and then I went to the Jamarat at Mina and prepared for our big day, the 10th of Dhu al-Hijja. I was at the Jamarat all night from around 10:00 p.m. until the following day after 'asr, some 18 hours. Starting from the evening of the ninth, more than two million people stoned the Jamarat. In cooperation with the mutawwafs we were able to schedule times for the different hajjis to come to stone. This year all the time was crowded; none was vacant.
"I believe that serving the guests of the Merciful [God] is a good deed, not just a job. It will be remembered on Judgment Day. When I receive a hajji who has a complaint and I can solve his problem, and I see him leave my office happy, I feel a great satisfaction. Everybody who works for the Hajj feels the same way."
Occupation: Lecturer in Islamic studies at King 'Abd al-'Aziz University, Jiddah
Occupation during Hajj: Editor of Al Qasswa magazine and religious program director for Qasswa Hajj Providers, a company that arranges Hajj travel packages for Saudi pilgrims
"I've been publishing Qasswa magazine for the last 12 years. In the beginning it was just a stapled pamphlet, but now it has become a professional-looking volume. Qasswa is published only at Hajj by Qasswa Hajj Providers, and it is distributed among our 600 client hajjis. It contains religious and spiritual guidance about Hajj and Islamic life.
"I begin to prepare the magazine and my program for Hajj about six months earlier. As the mother of seven children and with an eighth on the way, I am very busy, so I need to start early. My work involves a great deal of research, and in addition I have an educational program that is presented to the hajjis on the buses as they travel from point to point. We also prepare a daily newsletter that is distributed to the hajjis.
"Our goal is to take care of the spiritual requirements of our hajjis. I try to get to know them on a spiritual level, and help them to obtain the best Hajj. At 'Arafat we teach them prayers, and on the day of 'Id [the Feast of the Sacrifice], we decorate the tent. Throughout the Hajj, we help them plan to start a new life.
"Being spiritual doesn't mean spending the whole day isolated and worshiping. We should be comfortable and use technology for the sake of God. People think that if you are observing Hajj precisely, you can't be clean and comfortable, but Hajj can be completed with all of the comforts of a home. Hajj is not required to be difficult.
"My work helps people to be close to God. I have a role and objective in my work and my life. I enjoy working on the magazine most of all because it lasts beyond the days of Hajj. The best days of my year are the last days of Ramadan and the days of Hajj. The rest of the days of the year don't even come close."
Mohammed A. Zaidan
Occupation: General manager, Electrical and Electronics Contracting Company, subcontractor to the Ministry of Hajj and other Hajj-related agencies
Residence during Hajj: Khandama Mountain
"My job is to establish good radio communication channels between the Ministry of Hajj and all the support organizations through the entire holy journey. It starts at the airport. We provide the radio services so that the supervisors at the airport and the representatives of the transportation companies and their teams can move the hajjis to fulfill their lifelong dream of visiting these holy sites. Without these communication channels it would be difficult for anyone to fulfill their jobs: All Makkah is congested, and there is a lot of work to be done at the same time, at a certain time, and within a short time. We also try to provide an early warning system for emergencies.
"From the month of Ramadan [three months before the Hajj] we begin checking the radio stations and testing them, tuning them. I mainly concentrate on the main tower here, at Khandama Mountain. My engineers go to different sites, erect the antennas and prepare the links. Daily, I supervise the channels, deal with quality control, receive complaints from my clients, sort out interference problems and coordinate for my clients.
"The work of Hajj has two meanings. It is a blessing from God to be able to serve his guests, and also a challenge to me and my staff. As a strong believer, I don't feel any frustration—ever! Whatever good comes to you is from God, and whatever bad is from God also, and you are blessed, and you cannot avoid it."
Of her month behind the scenes of Hajj, Jiddah-based free-lance photographer Samia EI-Moslimany ([email protected]) writes: "This was the most physically grueling assignment I have ever done, but also the most enjoyable. Over the years, I have made the Hajj four times as a pilgrim, and each time my memory filled with images I didn't have the chance to capture on film. This was different: I am sated with the thousands of images I did capture, and yet I remain hungry to do it again. I am more amazed than ever at the complexity of the Hajj and, having rubbed shoulders—literally—with pilgrims of every color, shape and size, suffered with them the heat, the dust, the thirst, the waiting, the traffic and the lack of sleep, I am all the more in awe of their faith and the endurance that is born of faith. I am also aware of how easy it is as a pilgrim not to notice all the people who are doing so much work around you, and I found that whenever I went up to someone and told them that I was covering the work behind the Hajj, they were always pleased and very welcoming to me, from the government officials and ministers down to the guards and street sweepers. From them I learned how much people who do this really are doing it on a spiritual level, with passion, commitment and selflessness. Every pilgrim's last act of worship is the Farewell Circling of the Ka'bah, and it is accompanied by the prayer, 'Oh Lord, do not make this my last visit to Your House, and grant me the chance to return here again and again.' I prayed the same prayer, and, God willing, I will photograph the Hajj and its people again."