MECCA // The annual Haj came to a conclusion on Thursday as 1.8 million faithful from all corners of the world prepared to leave Mecca. And among the 19,000 British pilgrims was Simon Collis, Her Majesty’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the first senior British diplomat ever to undertake the pilgrimage.
A photograph of Mr Collis, 60 and his Syrian wife, Huda Al Mujarkech, posing outside the British consulate in Mecca dressed in their traditional white Haj robes was posted on Twitter by Fawziah Albakr, a writer and activist from King Saud University. She added the message in Arabic, “The first British ambassador to the kingdom leads the pilgrimage after his conversion to Islam: Simon Collis with his wife Ms Huda in Mecca. Praise be to Allah.” The ambassador tweeted back his thanks, saying, “God bless you. In brief: I converted to Islam after 30 years of living in Muslim societies and before marrying Huda.”
He has since been inundated with congratulations from across the Islamic world with many online saluting him as “Haji Simon.” Princess Basmah bint Saud was among the first to tweet her “special congratulations.” .
Mr Collis converted to Islam in 2011 and while some of his fellow diplomats knew about it, it was not public knowledge in Riyadh.
Apart from a few brief stints, he has spent his entire career in the Middle East. He studied Arabic at Cambridge University and on joining the UK diplomatic service in 1978, his first posting was to Bahrain. He went on to serve in Tunisia, Jordan and Dubai — where he was consul general — before being appointed to his first ambassadorship in Qatar.
He was ambassador to Syria for five years and angered the Assad regime by criticising the government’s crackdown on peaceful protesters. He left Damascus in February 2012 when the UK broke diplomatic ties with Syria and was ambassador to Iraq for two years. A father-of-five, he took up his current post as ambassador in Riyadh in early 2015. Both the British embassy in Riyadh and the Foreign Office in London declined to comment on Mr Collis’ Haj attendance, saying it was a private matter.
The National staff