Absolutely unblemished and world class.” That is how Zafar Sareshwala, the head of India’s goodwill delegation, described Saudi Arabia’s handling of this year’s Haj.
Addressing a press conference at the Indian Consulate in Jeddah on Thursday, he said no one outside Saudi Arabia would ever be able to fathom what kind of facilities and infrastructure were required for the mass movement of more than two million pilgrims to four holy sites in only 24 hours — from Makkah to Mina, Mina to Arafat, Arafat to Muzdalifa and then back to Mina. “All these have to happen for all the pilgrims at the same time,” he said.
“Outsiders will never be able to appreciate or understand what Saudi Arabia has done, and is doing, to ensure the smooth flow of what is an unbelievably massive congregation,” he said. “It is nothing short of a miracle. It is incredible and unimaginable. Nobody can have any reason to complain.”
The ritual at Jamrat where the pilgrims throw stones at the three wall-like structures symbolising the Devil went smoothly. “Carrying out this ritual used to be a nightmare and it was fraught with danger when I first performed Haj in 1991,” he said.
“I am not exaggerating and I want to reiterate that no government in the world would be able to live up to this phenomenal and challenging task,” he said. “No epidemic, no flies, no mosquitoes, clean washrooms and top-class medical facilities. That is why I call them outstanding facilities.”
According to Sareshwala, it is next to impossible to find good, clean washrooms in a majority of the mosques in India. “Here there are clean washrooms at all times for more that two million pilgrims at sites that are used for only five days in a year,” he said. “On behalf of the Indian government and the 135,904 Indian pilgrims who performed Haj this year, I congratulate Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi people for being such gracious and generous hosts,” he said.
He thanked the Indian government, the Indian Haj mission and the Haj Committee of India for selecting good residential buildings for pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah and providing an excellent package of services for a minimal cost.
“I paid unannounced visits to some of these buildings in Makkah and found them in excellent condition. They looked like good, decent hotels. The Indian government and all those associated with the management of Haj affairs in India and Jeddah need to be complimented for a job very well done.”
Sareshwala said that the highlight of his presence in Saudi Arabia as head of the goodwill delegation was the invitation to the reception hosted by King Salman at his palace in Mina two days ago.
“We were shown immense respect and were taken very good care of,” he said. “I had a brief opportunity to convey to the king and the deputy crown prince a message of peace from the Prime Minister and all Indians.”
Sareshwala was all praise for Indian Ambassador Ahmad Javed, Consul General Noor Rahman Sheikh and Deputy Consul General and Haj Consul Mohammed Shahid Alam. “They went out of their way to help the pilgrims in every possible way,” said Sareshwala.
The other member of the goodwill delegation, Gujarat Haj Committee Chairman Mohammed Ali Qadri, who also addressed the press conference, had similar praise for the services rendered by Noor Rahman Sheikh and his team.
In his brief address, the Indian ambassador said: “The Saudi government was very responsive and we received excellent and instant responses from them to all that we asked for.”
The consul general said he had had the opportunity to be part of the Indian Haj management as a diplomat in Jeddah for seven years. “This has been the best Haj so far,” he said.
Sareshwala said he had met many Pakistanis at the Haj.
“I had a very good meeting with well-known Pakistani scholar Maulana Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi and we wondered why we cannot overcome our differences,” he said. “In the plains of Arafat and in the tent city of Mina, we were one, we had no issues, so why should there be problems outside? We all can live in peace. We should live in peace. If there is peace in our region, then it will lead to development, and with development will come progress. Everything will fall in place and we will prosper as good neighbours,” he said.
At Arafat, Sareshwala said, “I prayed for peace for my country, for the region and for all people.”