Hajj 2019: the Abu Dhabi market place where pilgrims start a spiritual journey

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A traditional shopping district still draws visitors as Hajj preparations gather pace


When the pilgrims of Abu Dhabi prepare for Hajj, they go to Hasson Omar.

The Yemeni manages Salmin Trading Shops, which for decades has supplied the emirate’s residents with the white ihram cloth worn by men during the spiritual journey to Makkah.


Today, the market of tailors, ready-made clothes and gift shops behind Hamdan Centre has few visitors but Hajj still draws people back to the old downtown shopping districts of Abu Dhabi.


“People need to see the ihram, feel its quality,” said Mr Omar, pulling out the white cloth from a plastic bag. Salmin Trading is known as a one-stop-shop for Hajj shoppers, where they can buy black abayas devoid of embellishment, prayer mats, ihram shawls, sandals without stitching and anything else they may need for their voyage.

Jalila bin Salem looked over the ihram and at a pair of flip-flops. On August 5, she and her husband will join a group of Abu Dhabi residents and fly to Makkah.


“I am crying when I think about it,” said Ms bin Salem, who is 59 and from Algeria. “It’s marvellous, so marvellous. I don’t even know the name of the agency we’re travelling with – my son arranged everything.”


Part of the group are leaving tomorrow, but Ms bin Salem has given herself a few more days to prepare. She had returned to the souq to purchase a second ihram for her husband.


“He’ll need a spare. When I’m at Hajj, I don’t want to spend my time washing things. I will read the Quran and I will pray.”


Each year, millions of Muslims travel to Makkah to perform Hajj, with many also travelling farther north to the city of Madinah.


In 2018, nearly two million people made the journey, with the Saudi government allocating a set number of pilgrims for each country to avoid overcrowding.


Mr Omar performed Hajj for the first time last year. He travelled back to his family in Hadramawt, Yemen, to join his mother, and together they boarded a bus bound for the Kingdom. They passed the hours reading the Quran, sleeping and scrolling through Facebook.


Salmin Trading Shops attracts visitors keen to get equipped for upcoming journeys to Makkah. Chris Whiteoak / The National


The Hamdan Street market will become busier as Eid approaches and families prepare to travel back home for the holidays. It is a favourite place for people to stock up on gifts, from watches and baby dolls to ready-made abayas and dresses.


Homeward-bound residents often spend Dh500 to Dh1,000 on gifts in a single shop. Sales increase by about 40 per cent in the months before Eid Al Adha, said Mr Omar.


Downtown markets like the one behind Hamdan Centre and the Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre have emptied in recent years as workers who lived in the city centre moved to suburbs like Mussaffah.


Hasson Omar manages Salmin Trading Shops, which for decades has supplied the emirate’s residents with the white ihram cloth worn by men during Hajj. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The pressure to bring home exotic gifts like mosque alarm clocks or prayer rugs with built-in compasses also isn’t what it was. Nowadays, family members can find these same items wherever they live in the world or order them online.


Manawar Ansari, a clerk at a women’s clothing shop at Madinat Zayed, said business has remained slow, even with Eid around the corner. The shopping centre is still popular for its gold market and abaya shops but no longer attracts the clientele it once did.


“I heard this was once a busy place but I wasn’t here then and I never saw it,” said Mr Ansari, 39, who has lived in the Emirates for five years. “Before there just weren’t malls everywhere. People weren’t going here and there for shopping. They had one or two places and that’s it.”


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