Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Malayan Hajj Doctors

Introduction

Between 1900 and 1957, there were close to 55 Malay doctors who worked in early Malaya and Singapore. A few doctors served as ‘hajj doctors’ or ‘hajj surgeons’ as they were known, on the annual hajj pilgrimage. The hajj doctors’ work covered health and medical care for the pilgrims, most of whom were elderly in their 60s. Each time the hajj doctors accompanied the pilgrims, they wrote a report which was published in the local newspaper the following year. The doctors either worked alone or in a group of two or three doctors. Sometimes extra help was called for when the hajj situation warranted it (e.g. many pilgrims got sick from extreme hot weather) and only one hajj doctor was in-charge.

Indonesian Hajj Mission

Before 1949, the Malayan pilgrims depended on the Indonesian authorities for their hajj travel needs. Before the Indonesian independence on 17 July 1948, when Sumatra had problems with the Dutch authorities, it affected both the Indonesian and Malayan pilgrims. Upon their return leg, the Indonesian pilgrims had to put up in Penang for a long time before they were allowed re-entry into Indonesia by the Dutch authorities. Thus, the area around Masjid Jamek Melayu Aceh in George Town was filled with returning Indonesian hajj pilgrims who were waiting to be allowed re-entry into Indonesia. There were reports of living conditions becoming unfavourable due to overcrowding.

Steamers

Malaysia gained independence on 31 August 1957. Before 1974, the Malayan hajj trips from Malaya to Jeddah were by ships or steamers. These steamers were owned by British shipping companies but were registered in China for use in trade with China. However, some of these ships were chartered for use in the hajj pilgrimage. 

The hajj voyages were long and took more than a month for the onward leg and the same for the return leg. A steamer would carry about 1,000-1,500 pilgrims of all races and rungs. Life on board steamers was different from life in the Malay villages. Pilgrims had to cook their own food on the steamers.

Hajj Doctors/Hajj Surgeons

On board the Chinese-registered vessels, the health and sanitation conditions were under the purview of the Malayan hajj doctors. 

There were at least one to three hajj doctors in-charge of each hajj pilgrimage. Each hajj doctor either served once or repeatedly on the hajj pilgrimages during his career or lifetime. They were highly committed and were always helping out each other when posted as hajj doctors. 

These early Malay hajj doctors included Dr Pandak Ahmad bin Alang Sidin (Kuala Kangsar, Perak), Dr Shaik Mohamad Baboo bin Ahmad Albakish (George Town, Penang), Dr Abdul Ghani bin Mohammad (Bayan Lepas, Penang), Dr Mohamed bin Ibrahim (Kuala Lumpur), Dr Abbas bin Alias (Banting, Selangor), Dr Che Lah bin Md Joonos (Glugor, Penang), Dr Megat Khas bin Megat Omar (Kuala Kangsar, Perak), and others. 


Tabung Haji

In Malaysia, the hajj business is dominated and monopolized by Tabung Haji (TH), a government-linked company (GLC). TH HQ is the Bangunan Lembaga Urusan Dan Tabung Haji at 201 Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur. The unique building was designed by architect Hijaz Kasturi and was ready in 1986. 

Since the 1990s, Malaysian hajj is handled by TH and a limited number of private operators who form hajj consortiums in the different states in Malaysia. The most famous of the private operators in Penang is Syarikat Amin Rawa. In Kelantan, more recent private operators of the hajj trade are Al-Quds Sdn Bhd and Andalusia Sdn Bhd. 

The private hajj packages are managed by young enterprising local Malay male graduates from the Middle-East who can speak Arabic as their second or third language and who have networked contacts in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries where they studied previously. They are former students who studied in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria or Egypt. They have good knowledge of hajj management and have been involved with parts of the hajj rites, managing the pilgrim first-hand at the cities and towns involved with the hajj pilgrimage─Makkah, Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina. 

A lesser hajj (umrah) is also managed by TH and the private operators, and also involves Malay students who are studying in Makkah and Madinah. 

Muslims spend a lot of money for performing the hajj and umrah for it is believed that the rewards will be in the Hereafter.

Tabung Haji in Kuala Lumpur