KARACHI - Mohammad Afzal, 39, is listening carefully to a lecturer at a special class organized by a local tour operator to guide would-be pilgrims about hajj rituals and requirements for the spiritual journey.
These classes have really helped me understand the procedure for Hajj, Mohammad Afzal, a local businessman who is going for hajj with his wife next week, told OnIslam.net.
Now, I feel myself confident that Inshaullah I will be able to perform Hajj without seeking any guidance there.
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In fact, I can guide others there about mandatory procedures and requirements for Hajj, a confident Afzal said with a smile on his face.
Organized by almost all tour operators and religious organizations, hajj classes have become a permanent feature in Pakistan in the past years.
They are being held on a large scale with renowned Muslim scholars teachings pilgrims about hajj rituals.
In big cities, Hajj classes are held at tour operators' offices, wedding lawns, and in some cases, at hotels.
But in small towns and villages, mosques are used for hajj classes, usually taken by the local prayer leaders.
It is not mandatory to attend Hajj classes, but I felt it personally because I am going (for Hajj) for the first time, and was not feeling very confident, said Afzal, whose wife is amongst nearly two dozens of women taking notes in females' portion of the class.
That's why I and my wife decided to attend these classes, which have really turned out to be fruitful.
Mohammad Yunus, in his late 50s, also feels confident after attending hajj classes.
Now, I know where to begin Tawwaf from, and where to end that, how to act and who to contact in case of any emergency, Yunus, a retired teacher, told OnIslam.net.
What I have learned from hajj classes is that Hajj is the name of patience. If I observe patience, there will be no problem Inshaullah, a humble Yunus said.
The Pakistani pilgrim says he was feeling scared of hardships during the spiritual journey.
But now I am ready to face them. I have been mentally prepared (by Hajj classes) to face the toughness.
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
This year, around 180,000 Pakistanis are going to perform hajj.
Around 90,000 would-be pilgrims have been selected under the government Hajj scheme, while the remaining 90,000 will travel to the holy lands through private hajj scheme.
The classes are also meant to guide the pilgrims about Saudi authorities to avoid any troubles during hajj.
This has become equally important now to strictly guide the Hajjis about law of the land, and mandatory legal requirements, Yahya Polani, chairman of Polani Tour Operator, one of the largest tour operators in Pakistan, told OnIslam.net.
Legal experts are hired by tour operators to inform the intended pilgrims about Saudi laws and what is allowed and prohibited during hajj.
I can recall various incidents in which Pakistani Hajjis were either detained or deported just because they carried the stuff which is prohibited in Saudi Arabia, Polani said, referring to incidents when pilgrims were detained or deported for carrying poppy seeds, which are used as a food stuff in Pakistan, but banned in Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, four Pakistanis had to face trial last year for carrying heroin hidden in sleepers.
Later, it was proved that those slippers were gifted by some of their acquaintances at Karachi air port.
We basically teach them that laws in Saudi Arabia are way different than those in Pakistan, Polani said, citing different punishments for thefts and other petty crimes.
Punishment for theft of petty items is very light in Pakistan, and in most of the cases negligible. But in Saudi Arabia, it is a big crime. Therefore, our Hajjis must be extra careful about that.
Another focus in the hajj classes are the behavior of the Saudi government about Bida'hs.
Pakistan is hub of different schools of thought, including a couple of those whose followers sometimes go beyond and act against Shari`ah during hajj, especially at the Mazar of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
One can offer prayer as per his school of thought but there are certain things the Saudi government has zero tolerance towards them, Polani said.We have to especially teach people from rural Punjab and Sindh provinces, who have adopted some certain ways to show their love for Prophet Muhammad, which could invite trouble for them there.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net