Asharq Al-Awsat, London- British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, wished representatives from the UK delegation to hajj “a blessed pilgrimage” on Tuesday, in almost flawless Arabic. He also indicated he regretted no other European country had followed suit and sent a delegation of doctors and advisers to accompany pilgrims to Mecca and assist them in their journey.
Straw also praised the Ministry of Hajj in Saudi Arabia and its embassy in London for their “tireless work” in facilitating the travel of British pilgrims who decide to perform their religious duty.
The MP for Blackburn in northern England, where Muslims make up a third of the population, was speaking at the London Central Mosque during a farewell meeting for the delegation which will leave shortly for Saudi Arabia. Chairman Lord Adam Patel and several members of the delegation, led by deputy Saudi ambassador to the UK, Ferej al-Owedi, also attended.
“The fact that the government supports pilgrims is bound to show the extent to which we we in Britain live a truly multicultural and multi-religious society. No other western country provides [pilgrims] a mission of this kind,” Straw said.
In its seventh year, the delegation will provide pilgrims with health and practical assistance during their trip, especially as the pilgrimage “is an experience that is physically and spiritually demanding”, Straw added.
The Foreign Secretary also praised “the Saudi authorities and the Ministries in Jeddah and London” as well as all the volunteer doctors and advisers who “made personal and financial sacrifices in order to be part of the delegation”. Last year, the delegation helped 4,100 pilgrims out of 25,000 from Britain, Straw said. He predicted similar numbers for this year. He also indicated that health services would be offered to the pilgrims in two clinics, one for men and another for women.
Dr. Ahmad al Dubayan, Director General of the Islamic Cultural Center in London, opened the meeting by thanking Straw for his efforts to provide this necessary assistance. He was followed by Lord Patel who praised his friend, the Foreign Secretary.
Ambassador al Owedi told Asharq al Awsat, “Relations with the British delegation led by Lord Patel are excellent.” The embassy in London is currently busy processing applications for pilgrimage and has increased staff numbers in the consular section.
On his part, Lord Patel indicated, “I have been leading the delegation for six years. Every year I find the Saudi authorities more understanding and supportive.” He also thanked Dr. Fuad al Farsi, the Saudi Minister of Hajj for his support.