Oldest Saudi Hajj guide recalls memories of the pilgrimage from 50 years ago

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Saudi Abdul Qader Qarat, 73, keeps returning to the central areas of Mecca crowded by pilgrims recalling memories of how the place was like when he was a younger man carrying a loudspeaker, gathering the pilgrims to take them up to Mina, explaining that Yawm at-Tarwiyah – the day of fetching water and quenching the thirst and marks the official start of Hajj. He said it the day before Arafah is one of the toughest with no rest or sleep.

Qarat says he inherited his job from his father and grandfather while his children have now taken over from him.

The guide told Al Arabiya English that he started on the job when he was 16, and by 18 was traveling to Mecca to meet pilgrims in their countries, offering his service of guiding them during the Hajj rituals.

He said he was always welcomed and appreciated with pilgrims’ invocations following him in his mission.

The elder said that part of his job is to help the pilgrims and that he used to lend some money to finish their pilgrimage and when they returned home, they would send him back his money, saying he was well known among Tunisian pilgrims.

He also said he took over the profession from his uncle who raised him, Sheikh Ibrahim Sulaiman Qarat who was a member in the association of Tawaf guides, which was limited to four families distributed among Arab, Java, Asia and Turkey, and that his uncle was the Sheikh of those working as a Mutawaf (guide) during the time of King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia.

Later on, civil society took over the profession, adding that he worked with a lot of them offering his years of experience.

Qarat said during his early days, he remember that around 400 pilgrims would arrive to perform Hajj, but with better transportation services, the number of pilgrims started to increase, saying that the last time he worked he served around 7,000 pilgrims, getting paid 50 riyals for each pilgrim he guided around the sacred grounds.

Hajj Abdul Qader said that after getting old, his two sons succeeded him, while his three daughters are expected to join in his footsteps next year.

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