Hundreds of stretcher carriers have left the Grand Mosque, after spending long years roaming around the Kaaba, carrying disabled and powerless people. Stretchers have played a major role in the rituals of Hajj and Umrah and were a source of livelihood for hundreds of people.
“A stretcher is usually carried by three of four workers,” said stretcher carrier Abdullah Adam Housawi, who used to charge 50 riyals for each trip. Even though there were a number of hands carrying each stretcher, he said it was heavy work.
Even though they were dangerous to use in peak hours, stretcher trips were usually childrens’ gifts to parents or bought as tokens of luxury from a man to his wife. But the stretchers and their owners have been taken out of service, like the great old warships that have become monuments only to be commemorated and appreciated by their loyal sailors.
Mohammed Taher Hosawi, president of the stretcher carriers’ community, said that stretchers were an ancient tradition that started under the era of King Hussein and were preserved during the reign of King Abdul Aziz. “But stretchers were removed from the Holy Mosque about a year ago.”
Stretchers were a good source of income and part of the culture at Mecca, but ending their use has not caused any disruption. The number of carriers never exceeded 700 people, and they have been substituted by modified wheelchairs that offer safer, more comfortable transport.
Stretchers were decommissioned to guarantee better safety and more job opportunities, and also save money and alleviate fatigue. The new mode of transport for the disabled and elderly take up less space and help the effort to expand the Holy Mosque.