Pulling off a seamless Hajj experience is a complex logistical task, even without a global pandemic raging. Keeping this year’s 60,000 pilgrims on time and socially distanced is the work of thousands of volunteers and workers, with many women leading the charge.
The National spoke to some of the women keeping Hajj on track.
Emergency call centre workers
The 911 call centre in Makkah has a designated women’s section, covering all sorts of emergencies and dispatching help. Women began working there in 2017, and the female workforce works in three shift patterns of around 20 women each.
“During Hajj, the number of calls increases. For example, when a few pilgrims get lost or need any medical help,” said 911 women section supervisor Rana Tayeb.
“During Hajj, we increase the number of people on shifts to handle the increased calls, it is a great responsibility and honour for us to make sure they do their Hajj safely.”
This year, 331 medical practitioners, including 160 women, are volunteering in four groups.
Specialists are based at the East Arafat hospital, a second group is assigned to work at six clinics in the holy site, the third group ensures Covid-19 protocols are observed in all steps of the journey, and the fourth takes care of preventive medicine.
Nurse Sara Al Shamari is based at the Grand Mosque of Makkah, her second placement as a volunteer.
“If a pilgrim doesn’t look well, we will be the first response team,” she said.
“This volunteering experience of serving God’s guests is like a badge of honour,” she added.
Ms Al Shamari travelled all the way from Dammam — 1,300 kilometres away in the east of the kingdom — to Makkah, just to volunteer for Hajj.
There are 1,000 health practitioners working in four hospitals and six health clinics at the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzlifa, with women making up a large proportion.
Dr Zahra Al Srori, 26, and her friend Dr Tasneem Eid both decided to work this Hajj.
“This is our first time” Ms Al Srori said, with Ms Eid adding it “definitely won’t be our last!”
They are working at the emergency room at Al Rahamh hospital in Arafat. It is a crucial hospital that enables pilgrims to continue their Hajj even if they are unwell, as just being in Arafat is enough for their Hajj to be accepted.
“When the pilgrims pray for us after we help them, it gives me goose bumps. Their prayers and words are so sincere,” Ms Al Srori said.
Nurse Taya Abdulsalam has been working every Hajj for 14 years. This year she is working in the Mina Al Wadi hospital.
“We offer the pilgrims all the necessary medical and nursing services to facilitate their pilgrimage and ensure they’re healthy,” she said.
Ms Abdulsalam keeps returning to work Hajj every year, despite its difficulty, because it is an experience like no other for her.
“The good thing about working during Hajj season is that we, the medical staff, experience a unique spiritual feeling.”
The Arabic word “teewafah” refers to someone who guides pilgrims around the mosques of Makkah, but the job description of Moutawef is much broader. They are like the tour guides of Hajj.
Men and women take on this role, and are with the pilgrims step by step as they do their Hajj, offering help with everything from logistics to religious matters, from the moment they set foot in Makkah.
There are 71 camps for pilgrims at each holy site this year. There is a women-only section, staffed by women who take care of pilgrims' food, cleaning and general logistics needs.
“This is my fourth year as a camp supervisor. My role is to ensure all the pilgrims' needs are met in the camp, from the simple stuff like where are the Qibla directions to any medical help they need and the times of movements,” said Amal AabdulRahman.
She explained how Hajj's hardship sometimes leads people to be stressed and tired, and this is a challenge for her.
“You need to make sure they feel settled in the camp and well rested. I need to provide everything for them, so they are free for their worship.”
Women soldiers are taking many roles in this year’s Hajj. Among them is soldier Abeer Al Rashed, who conducted the country's first-ever female-led security forces briefing for Hajj last week.
Eighty female officers work at Makkah’s Grand Mosque, where the pilgrims perform Tawaf to start their Hajj and another to end it.
Their roles in the holy mosque include maintaining security and safety operations, managing crowds in all the hallways, yards and floors of the grand mosque. They also check pilgrims are adhering to precautionary measures, such as social distancing and wearing masks.
Civil defence female officers are also working this Hajj, as safety inspectors for the holy sites.
Their role is to patrol the pilgrims' campus before worshippers arrive in the holy sites and during their stay to make sure all safety and fire protection protocols are met.
Reem Khalid, 25, is a media co-ordinator. Her role is to accompany international journalists on the ground as they cover the pilgrimage.
This is the first time Ms Khalid has worked during Hajj, a goal she had wanted to achieve for five years.
“I tried many times to be a volunteer in Hajj and didn't get lucky, then I got this job, and the opportunity came to me.”