Dubai, UAE: They may be a long way from Mecca but children at a private school in Dubai said they learnt a lot from a “virtual Haj” on Tuesday.
More than 600 children at Emirates International School (EIS) in the Meadows carried out the religious observance using carefully decorated cardboard props.
They took seven turns around a home-made representation of the Kaaba, threw tinfoil balls at three posts representing the Jamarat and recited a verse from the Quran on a carpet representing Mount Arafat.
“We have taught them all about this in lessons this last week and now they have the opportunity to learn more by actually putting it into practice,” said Abir Alkhatib, head of primary school Islamic education.
“We’ve had great feedback from the children and from the parents. They have all learnt a great deal more about Haj by going through the stages and learning about the significance of each one.”
The “mini Haj” is common not only among public schools in the Emirates but around the world. However, EIS is one of the first international schools to hold its own.
Ms Alkhatib said that about 60 per cent of the school’s pupils were Muslim and there were plans to open it up for non-Muslims to learn about the history of Eid Al Adha next year.
Sumayya Seedat, from South Africa, was one of the volunteer parents who helped to make the props for the event.
Ms Seedat said the black and gold fabric draped around two stacked tables for the Kaaba was specially made. “We tried to get it as close as possible,” she said. “It took many trips to Satwa.”
She said they had made small adaptations, such as the tinfoil balls for the stoning of the devil.
“We don’t want the children to injure one another,” Ms Seedat said.
The observance was a solemn one but the natural ebullience of the children shone through on several occasions.
Teachers had to use a microphone to tell them not to pick up the stones again “and throw them 100 million times”.
Ms Seedat said the experience was intended to be an educational one.
“The Islamic department felt that it was time for children who haven’t gone to Saudi Arabia to experience what it is like,” she said.
“They’re an average of eight years old but we want them to develop a respect at an early age. The intention is to teach the children.”
Ms Seedat has taken her family to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah twice, but her daughter Layla, 7, said she still learnt a lot from the mini Haj at her school.
Another parent, Marwa Drea from Syria, praised the school for offering an education not only to children but also for the adults who came to watch.
“It’s important for children but it’s important for parents, too,” Ms Drea said. “I didn’t know much about the Haj but I’m learning now.
“We plan to go and do Umrah at the end of the year, so this is a practice for them and a practice for me.”
Enida Mujanovic, from Belgium, said she was proud of her son Nader, 6, for performing the observance.
“I learnt a lot of things I didn’t know about Haj from watching this today,” Ms Mujanovic said. “Although it was only a practice performance, I found it really emotional to see all the children doing it so well.”
Nader gave a long and comprehensive account of the historical and religious significance of Haj, but he was a little confused when asked if he wanted to do a real Haj one day.
“Haven’t we just done it?” he asked.
© The National