More than 100 former drug addicts in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries were invited to perform the Muslim hajj pilgrimage this year as part of a rehabilitation campaign by the kingdom’s anti-drug authority.
Many of the pilgrims quit drugs four to six months earlier and underwent psychological treatment provided by Saudi Arabia’s anti-narcotics directorate, said the authority’s Director General Major Gen. Othman Nasser al-Mehrej.
The treatment often includes religious tours and awareness-raising lectures about drug-related harm.
Gen. Mehrej said during last Muslim fasting month of Ramadan 250 quitters were taken on umrah (a Muslim pilgrimage performed at any time of the year) tours, in which they visited the Grand Mosque in Makkah and performed tawaf (circumambulating the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site) and sa’i, the ritual of travelling back and forth between the mountains of al-Safa and al-Marwah.
“We are trying to help them solve their problems and adapt to their new life and this is the least we can do,” Gen. Mehrej said.
The anti-narcotics directorate’s Deputy Director Abdul Ilah al-Sharif noted how many former drug addicts on the program come from various social backgrounds.
“Drug addiction does not discriminate between poor and rich and the authority seeks to help everyone overcome the transition from addition to normal life,” he said.
Replicating the initiative
Gen. Mehrej said the Saudi drug initiative to bring former addicts to hajj and umrah could be replicated by other Muslim countries but would require coordination with the Saudi government.
Ali Hassan, one of the quitters from al-Qatif, in the east of the kingdom, told Al Arabiya News that he smoked cannabis and took ecstasy pills for 10 years.
“My family took me to al-Amal hospital for treatment one day and we were told there about this program. Then I contacted them and joined. They took as to Makkah to perform umrah, gave us regular lectures and took us to Qatar,” Hassan said.
“It has been six months now since I quit and I am feeling better,” he said. “Coming to hajj further strengthened my commitment not to return to drugs.”
Haseed Seif, another former drug addict from Oman, told Al Arabiya News the he lost his job because of his habit.
“I used to work and study and when I get depressed I take drugs and cut my wrists,” he said.
“One day, I walked into my manager’s office and had an argument with him. Then I cut myself and he fired me. He told me: “‘
Go treat yourself Seif,’” he said.
“When I heard about the program and how strong it is, I joined and now I am feeling better and my behavior and my social relations have improved,” Seif said.
He said he quit five months ago after 10 years of addiction.