Pilgrim guides now and then


Saudi Gazette

TALAL Mahboob has been a Haj guide serving pilgrims from India and Pakistan for the last 50 years. He is the head of Field Service Office No. 57 run by the South Asian Pilgrims Establishment.

In an interview with Saudi Gazette, Mahboob said he had been in this business since the age of nine. His father would take him to the establishment to help him with tawafa services.

“I was very much influenced by my father who was a dedicated Haj guide. My father exerted great efforts to serve the pilgrims and provide them with everything they needed,” he said.

In the past, tawafa (Haj guidance) was very exhausting and hard. The mutawwif (Haj guide) had to travel to the country of pilgrims and offer his services there. The pilgrims would not pay the mutawwif any money at this stage.

At that time it would take the mutawwifs 4-6 months to travel to the countries of pilgrims and offer their services before returning to Makkah. Once a mutawwif reaches a deal on the services, he would return to Makkah and immediately embark on securing accommodation for the pilgrims and making the catering services ready.

Pilgrims would arrive mainly through Jeddah Islamic Port and would be received by the mutawwif who would help them finalize their arrival procedures. When the pilgrims would get to Makkah, the mutawwif would offer them a free breakfast, lunch, or dinner depending on the time of arrival and transport them to the Grand Mosque to perform the tawaf al-qudoom (the arrival tawaf, or the circumambulation of the Holy Kaaba). The mutawwif would bear the travel costs of pilgrims to Madinah. After the pilgrims would return to Makkah, the mutawwif would take them to the Holy Sites and stay with them until they complete all the Haj rituals.

In the past, it was the mutawwif’s family members who would serve the pilgrims, prepare food for them, and ensure that all their needs were met, Mahboob said.

The mutawwif’s family members spoke the language of the pilgrims and knew how to communicate with them. At the time, the relationship between pilgrims and the mutawwif was very strong, he said.

“Two of the Indian pilgrims who came for Haj this year approached me and said they had performed Haj with me some 40 years ago. I also received the youngest Indian pilgrim this year — a four-year girl,” he said.

The mutawwif's role in serving pilgrims has not changed much but today there are stricter laws. The accommodation arrangements have changed. Foreign Haj missions have taken over the task of securing accommodation for their pilgrims, and the mutawwifs are no longer in charge of these missions.

The Haj mission for each country will provide the relevant tawafa establishment with information about the number of pilgrims and flight details in order for the mutawwfis to receive the pilgrims. After the pilgrims arrive at King Abdulaziz International Airport, they will be transported to their accommodation already arranged by the concerned Haj mission and then to the Grand Mosque to perform the arrival tawaf.