Bangladeshi pilgrims receive rare opportunity to perform Umrah as special guests

DHAKA: Abdus Salam’s lifetime dream was to pray at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. The Bangladeshi van driver was not sure if it would ever come true until this month, when he became a guest of King Salman’s special Umrah program.

Salam and another 29 Bangladeshi nationals were among 1,000 pilgrims from around the world invited to take part in the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Guests Program for Hajj and Umrah this year.

Given that most of them are Islamic scholars and intellectuals, Salam’s invitation was not very likely. But the elderly man who used to serve as a muezzin at a government mosque in southwestern Jhenaidah district drew the attention of the Saudi embassy in Dhaka, which endorsed him.

“I am a simple van driver. My travel to Madinah and Makkah was only possible due to the kind generosity of the Saudi king. Otherwise, it would have never been possible for me,” Salam told Arab News.

“I have been nurturing this dream of visiting the holy sites for many years. I was always hopeful that one day Allah Almighty would grant my wishes.”

He arrived in Madinah last week and performed Friday prayers at the Prophet’s Mosque, the second-holiest site in Islam, after the Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah.

“Entering the mosque’s premises filled my heart with serenity. I offered prayers in the mosque. To me, it was a lifetime experience,” he said.

“I prayed for peace and prosperity of the whole Muslim ummah. I also prayed for an end to wars around the world. I prayed for the Palestinian brothers who are now facing indescribable suffering. I also prayed for the good health and well-being of the Saudi king and the people of my country, and my family.”

From the moment Salam arrived in Saudi Arabia, he was overwhelmed by the way he and other pilgrims were received.

“Before arriving in the Kingdom, I heard a lot about the hospitality of the people of this land. I have witnessed that hospitality after landing in Madinah and it was beyond my imagination,” he added.

“My words are not enough to express my gratitude.”

Ezazul Huq, who is pursuing his master’s degree in Arabic studies at Dhaka University, was also a part of the Bangladeshi delegation. To be in Saudi Arabia, let alone as a guest of its king, was for him beyond imagining.

“I have a deep love for the Arabic language and culture and driven by that spirit I decided to pursue my education in Arabic studies,” he told Arab News.

“But I am still a student … I was speechless when I received the invitation.”

Having studied the history of the Middle East for many years, Huq knew how hospitality and generosity were deeply ingrained in Arab culture, but it was the first time for him to experience it directly.

“We were received warmly, with flowers, and the expressions of hospitality began the very moment we arrived at the airport. At the hotel, we were welcomed with traditional Arabic coffee, qahwa, and Zamzam water. We also got the rare opportunity of meeting the imam of the Prophet’s Mosque,” he said.

“While offering prayers at the Prophet’s Mosque, good wishes and prayers came out from my heart spontaneously for the people who have given us this rare opportunity.”

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