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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 19:08 GMT
UK scouts begin Hajj pilgrimage

By Dil Neiyyar
BBC Asian Network

Pilgrims at Mecca
The scouts will join millions of others in Mecca

A group of British scouts has set off for the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The 25-strong party said they were proud and excited to be the first British members of the organisation to perform the Hajj.

The scouts, who are aged 14 to 25, come from all over England. At Heathrow Airport their enthusiasm was bubbling over.

Abdullah Mussa, 22, a business technology graduate from Birmingham who is leading the group, said:" I am extremely excited. Ecstatic. To be honest I really can't express how excited I am."

The Hajj is a religious pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca that every Muslim is expected to make at least once in their lifetime. Its one of the 'five pillars' of Islam, which form the foundations for Muslim life.

"The Hajj is one of the biggest religious adventures in history and is an expression of devotion to God. I consider it the greatest spiritual adventure of my life. Each year three to four million people make the pilgrimage to Mecca; it will be an amazing experience to be part of this breath-taking expedition", said Abdullah.

The Hajj is one of the biggest religious adventures in history and is an expression of devotion to God
Abdullah Mussa

The scouts have been training hard for a number of months to prepare themselves for the difficult conditions they face in Saudi Arabia.

During the day they can expect intense heat and a sharp drop in temperature at night.

"We've done a lot of preparation. Two residential camps. Re-enacted everything. Packed bags two months earlier to make sure we knew what we would be taking", Mr Mussa explained.

In Mecca the scouts will swap their uniforms for white sheets. They will then retrace the route the prophet Mohammed took 14 centuries ago. Symbolic rituals are performed with followers seeking repentance, purification and spiritual renewal.

15 year old Faraj Al-Jehani and his younger brother Ahmed are making the journey from their home in Beckenham in Kent.

"I am very happy and excited to go. I can't believe all of us are here and ready to go. Going with a group is better because we can help each other", said Faraj.

"I have checked my bags. My brother and mum have been nagging me, so I know I've got everything", his younger brother, 14-year-old Ahmed, explained.

Royal guests

The scouts haven't had to shell out a penny for the once in a lifetime experience. They are going on the pilgrimage courtesy of the Saudi Royal family.

Simon Carter of the Scout Association explained the idea behind the trip: "The idea for the Hajj came out of an obvious need to bring different communities together in the wake of the September 11 attacks and July 7 London bombings."

"Scouting is all about giving young people challenging and adventurous opportunities. The young people attending the Hajj will have an experience of a life time that will help them more fully understand the world around them", explained Jackie Martin, also of the Scout Association.

There are twenty Muslim scout groups in the UK. Another ten are in the process of being set up.

On top of that, the Scout Association says it has had a further 30 inquiries from Muslim communities across Britain keen on setting up a local group.

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