Voices: Disability and the Hajj to Mecca
- 18 November 2010
- From the section Middle East
The annual Hajj pilgrimage - a religious duty that every adult Muslim is expected to do once in their lives - can be a tough challenge.
But the obstacles are infinitely greater for Muslims with disabilities, who choose to take the journey.
Over two million descended on Mecca, in western Saudi Arabia, for this year's religious ceremonies.
BBC World Service's Heart And Soul correspondent Meena Bakhtash spoke to a range of Muslims with disabilities about their Hajj experiences.
I was left paralysed by an accident at the age of 17 and I originally declared my intention to make the Hajj in 1980 but it was another 12 years before I was actually able to go.
Right from the beginning it was a struggle because when I approached the entrance, one of the custodians started shooing me away like I was a fly. As I tried to steer around him he jumped back in front of me again.
I thought to myself, I have already been paralysed for 26 years, do not let anyone take away your rights from you to perform your Hajj.
Whatever the custodian's problem was I had to break down the barriers.
I wasn't able to go around the Kaaba in my wheelchair so I was prepared to pay for a basket held aloft by six Nigerian brothers and they trotted around it seven times.
It was scary but as I made my way halfway through the seven circuits, I started to feel confident.
I contracted polio as a young child.
My biggest concern was probably being lost. I am quite sighted, so I have watched the live prayers that are broadcast from Mecca. I am aware of the vast nature of the complex.
Watching that I was quite concerned about going with a group and becoming separated from them
The Hajj was hard in the sense that it was very congested and tight and mattresses were lined up on both walls as well a little gangway in between. So if you were trying to get a wheel chair across, there was no way to do that.
I had to get on the floor literally and go on my knees in the middle of the gangway to the mattress. That was a big problem.
But the whole thing felt like I'd just done something I could be absolutely proud of.
You can live on that single moment for the rest of your life.
There were many practicalities to think about. I couldn't take my guide dog but I had my white cane fully extended at all times so that people around me knew I was blind.
It was a massive crush but everybody around me really wanted to try and get me there. They wanted me to able to get to the black stone and touch it.
I was slightly worried that I may not get the full impact of seeing the Kaaba for the first time because I wouldn't be visually seeing it.
Obviously we were being told when you see the Kaaba for the first time it is a very, very significant moment.
As we started going round it, I literally got this feeling of awe which was the equivalent of somebody seeing it for the first time.
I actually managed to touch it on a few occasions and I made it to the black stone which is very significant for Muslims to be able to touch, because few get that opportunity.
I'm so glad I did because the way I'd imagined it was completely different to how it was in reality and the feeling I got, I won't ever forget. It was amazing.
Shaykh Abdel Aziz
The whole Hajj journey is about learning to help each other, tolerance, being patient, learning and anger management.
A person with a disability delayed us by three to four hours so all the pilgrims had to face that period of waiting.
This is a very great test particularly for the pilgrims to wait for such a long time.
That teaches them patience, tolerance, they learn to appreciate God almighty and they learn.
At the same time there are those who cannot control their patience and they become angry very easily. So it is a great lesson.