Monday, June 24, 2024

Manchester Airport welcomes Hajj pilgrims for ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip

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By Ewan Gawne & Mairead SmythBBC News, Manchester

BBC Pilgrims head through security at Manchester airportBBC

Muslim pilgrims have been passing through Manchester Airport for Hajj

In modern times, an airport is a likely starting point for millions of Hajj pilgrims setting off on the journey to Mecca.

More than a thousand Muslims are expected to travel through Manchester Airport this week as the north of England’s only transport hub with direct flights to Jeddah.

Ihram changing rooms and Wudhu washing facilities have been set aside in terminal two specifically for pilgrims travelling to the holiest site in Islam.

Shurma Chowdhury, a Muslim chaplain at the airport, said the annual pilgrimage was a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.

Shurma Chowdhury at Manchester airport

Shurma Chowdhury has been greeting pilgrims at the airport

She is one of the first faces that pilgrims will see at the airport, and is there to ensure their trip goes smoothly.

“For some people, it could be their first time at an airport, so I am just here to help them around,” Ms Chowdhury said

“The last thing you want is to be worried you’re lost and you’re going to be late for prayer or trying to find the washrooms.”

Tours for Hajj, which falls this year between 14 and 19 June, set off from Manchester this week, with many expected to spend ten to 21 days in Saudi Arabia.

Hajj is the annual pilgrimage made by Muslims to the holy city of Mecca, with millions making the journey from across the world.

Jeddah Airport is about an hour’s drive to Mecca.

Ms Chowdhury said many pilgrims would perform the Hajj only once, and it was an “expensive undertaking”, which can cost up to £10,000 per person.

Covid-related restrictions remain in place meaning spaces were “very limited”, she added.

 Mohammed Nawid Ahmed Hanif and Dahira Naveed

Mohammed Nawid Ahmed Hanif and Dahira Naveed are flying to Jeddah

Some, like Mohammed Nawid Ahmed Hanif and Dahira Naveed are making the pilgrimage for the first time.

“It’s very important, as it is one of our pillars of Islam,” Mr Ahmed Hanif said, adding the pair “wanted to do it at a young age”.

Imran Valley said he was “elated” as he and his wife Hasfa made final preparations in the departures lounge.

“I just want to get there, I just want to experience it, I hear people say it’s a magnificent place,” he said.

Hasfa and Imran Valley

Hasfa and Imran Valley said they were both excited for the pilgrimage

Hasfa, who has undertaken Hajj before, said she was “feeling the pressure”.

“You want to get everything right, it’s so important, the journey is so significant, you can’t afford to get anything wrong.”

Another Muslim chaplain at the airport, Faruk Ali, said designated areas had been set aside at the airport for pilgrims to “change into their Hajj gear, which we call Ihram”.

Sign for changing rooms for Hajj pilgrims at Manchester Airport

Manchester Airport has signposted changing rooms and washing facilities for pilgrims.

This consists of two white cotton garments worn on the upper and lower parts of the body by men only, he said.

“It’s important for those travelling direct, as they have to be in the Hajj gear before they enter certain boundaries of Saudi Arabia.”

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