Saturday, 10 October 2015  -  26 Dhul-Hijjah 1436 H
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Exposure to foreign pilgrims puts Makkah’s youth in unique spotlight

A polyglots’ world


Saudi Gazette report


EVERY Haj season, Makkah’s young men impress foreign pilgrims with their linguistic skills. Many non-Arabic speaking pilgrims arrive in the Kingdom under the impression that they will face great difficulties communicating with the local populace. However, they are often left pleasantly surprised when their Tawafah guides or young men working in retail stores speak their language. Al-Riyadh daily reports how exposure to foreign pilgrims has made it easier for youth in Makkah to learn different languages.

Mustafa Baha, a Turkish pilgrim, said he was worried about the language barriers and assumed that Tawafah guides and employees did not speak Turkish. But he was surprised when a store employee started talking to him in Turkish. As one browses stores in the city, employees in restaurants and retail stores can be heard speaking to pilgrims in their native tongue. With millions of pilgrims visiting the city every year, local Tawafah establishments that arrange pilgrims’ trips seek to hire people who are fluent in different languages.

Abdulraheem A., a young man from Makkah, speaks fluent Hausa, a Chadic language spoken across Africa.

Abdulraheem said his fluency in Hausa allows him to explain the Haj rituals and educate African pilgrims of health dangers and how to protect themselves against any diseases.

“It is a simple language. If you want proof, look at the Asian expatriates working for numerous Haj establishments that serve African pilgrims. Most of them have learned it. Makkah is the place where one can learn different languages from Umrah performers and Haj pilgrims,” he said.

Ahmad Halabi, a writer, said fluency in Urdu, Farsi, Indonesian, Hausa and other common languages is job requirement by many Tawafah establishments. “If someone wants to work for the Southeast Asian establishment in charge of countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, etc, he needs to master one of the languages in order to get the job,” explained Halabi.

“Many of the pilgrims from these countries need interpreters to help them get around in Makkah and learn about the Haj rituals. Most Tawafah guides have learned the language of pilgrims by picking it up during interactions with the pilgrims,” Halabi added.

The Ministry of Haj has been offering a wide variety of crash courses in numerous languages since 1995. Tawafah establishments are encouraged to coordinate with the ministry’s language learning center to organize courses for all the employees working for a certain establishment.

Muhammad Azhar, the supervisor of transportation at a Tawafah establishment that deals with Pakistani pilgrims, said pilgrims often want to learn Arabic and be able to speak the language with the people of Makkah but are surprised when, instead, they hear someone speaking to them in their native tongue.

“Pilgrims are very interested in learning more about the culture of Makkah and its traditions. Learning Arabic is a dream for most of them. They want to be able to attend lessons in Arabic on Haj and Umrah rites and understand what is being said. But they are always very happy when they see young Saudi men speaking to them Urdu,” he said.

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