PARIS - Preparing pilgrims for the spiritual journey, a French agency is offering courses for European Muslims to fulfil the lifetime trip.
The Hajj Academy is a training center whose objective is to prepare pilgrims to understand the environment of the Hajj pilgrimage or of the `Umrah pilgrimage, Zacaria Nana, President of SOS Pilgrims, told Reuters.
The agency has created an academy to offer classes for would-be pilgrims to prepare for the annual pilgrimage.
It provides pilgrims with advice on necessary medical tests and vaccinations before going to the holy lands.
It also offers information on travel agencies authorized by French and Saudi authorities to fly the pilgrims.
The travel agencies usually offer a package deal which includes a return air ticket, hotel reservations and transport to the holy sites.
There are certain teaching units, some very technical on health and security aspects and other aspects of rituals and steps and particularly one element which we think is important for the Hajj Academy, Nana said.
It's to prepare French and European pilgrims for the diverse and multicultural context of meeting, that one experiences when one is in Makkah.
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, nearly 35,000 French pilgrims will go to hajj, which will climax on October 24.
It is very important for a Muslim to accomplish this pilgrimage which is one of five pillars of Islam, said Ghaleb Bencheickh, a specialist on Islam and guest speaker at Hajj Academy.
It's an intense, spiritual and religious moment for men and women of the Muslim faith.
It's the trip of a lifetime; it's the place where one meets God. It's also a place of brotherly gathering where Muslims express sentiments of fraternity, of liking, he said.
They exploit the gentleness and clemency of God. It's really a very strong moment in the life of a Muslim.
Some pilgrims were keen to attend the courses to prepare themselves for the spiritual journey.
I came today to the Hajj Academy to meet other pilgrims and the members of SOS Pilgrims', Rafiq Saouli, who is going to hajj this year with his parents, told Reuters.
I got information off the internet about the trip to Makkah before coming here.
For Saouli, the academy has helped him relieve many burdens before going to hajj.
The Hajj Academy helped me to choose an authorized travel agency and to get information on Saudi Arabia, he said.
In any case, for a trip like this, one doesn't leave stress-free. I don't know what is going to happen over there.
Once we're there, there will no doubt be surprises. Even after preparing well for one's trip, one is always surprised. But thankfully the Hajj Academy exists, one is a little more at peace.
His father Amar said everything on his checklist had been ticked off, and that all that was left now was to leave.
We have sorted all the details for our trip, we haven't forgotten anything. The tickets are ready, the reservation also, everything is paid. We can leave, he said.Obviously we are happy to go, we're looking forward to it.