Meet Motawifs - Saudi religious tour guides for pilgrims from abroad

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Motawifs of pilgrims, religious tour guides, have been greeting pilgrims who arrive in Saudi airports and ports and offering services to them in the holy sites for more than eight centuries.

Ahmad Halabi, a researcher in Hajj affairs and a Motawif himself, told Al-Arabiya.net that the profession of Motawifs have been inherited by sons and grandsons.

The role is traced back to Judge Ibrahim bin Zohayra in 1480 when he guided Sultan Al-Ashraf Qa’it Bay, the 18th Burji Mamluk Sultan of Egypt.

According to Halabi, the Motawif’s job emerged because Mamluk rulers did not know Arabic and it remained exclusive to judges in Mecca until 1517 when dignitaries were allowed to practice it.

Exclusive to Mecca families

Families in Mecca have inherited this job for 800 years as when the founding King Saud entered Mecca, and he ordered that the job remain exclusive to them, Halabi said.

Doctor Ra'fat Bin Ismail Badr, chief of the Muttawiffy Hujjaj South Asia, said the institution serves pilgrims from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, the Maldives, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain.

Badr told Al-Arabiya.net that they begin providing services to pilgrims from the minute they arrive in the kingdom and until they leave. For example, they receive them at the airport and ports, drive them to their dwelling places and take them to holy sites, such as Mecca, Medine, Mina, etc.., to perform the rituals.

Foreign pilgrims who are around 2 million are distributed to six different institutions of Motawifs.

This article is also published in Arabic.