Human Appeal International thstralia (HAIA) in coordination with Deen Academy (DA) hosted a group of young Muslim Australians on an Umrah leadership development tour of five cities – Mecca, Medina, Amman, Istanbul and Dubai. The Tour took place from 10 to 26 February 2015, comprising fifteen participants from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra. The group of young university student leaders were led and mentored on the trip by Bashar Al-Jamal, director of HAIA and Dr Zac Matthews, principal instructor with DA.

The journey commenced with undertaking the minor pilgrimage (umrah) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Very little equates to the spiritual enrichment gained from umrah. Worshippers dressed in ceremonial plain white cloth visiting Islam’s holiest mosque, the Kaba, performing rituals of worship as performed by Prophet Abraham and taught by the last and final Prophet of God, Muhammad (peace be upon him). Tour members spent valuable moments connecting with the Almighty and reconciling their own personal affairs with the Sublime.

The City of Light – Medina – the Prophet’s city, where his mosque and grave are located was the second phase of the journey. Being present at the very place where a profound message flourished left an indelible mark on all. Several museums were visited in both historical cities – Assalaamu-alayka Ayyuhan-Nabiy (The Prophet’s Project), the Holy Mosques, Ninety-Nine Names of God, Taiba, etc. The group also visited the Quran printing complex as well as the historical sites of Arafat, Mina, Quba, and Qiblatain.

After renewing and recharging spiritual and emotional connections at Islam’s holiest of places, the tour then moved on to the city of Amman in Jordan. It was here on Wednesday 18th February that the group visited an aid distribution centre for Syrian refugees. They personally assisted with HAIA’s Winter Aid Appeal handing out heaters, blankets and food packs to more than fifty Syrian families. The food packs and gas heaters were estimated to last about 3 weeks in the cold winter. Witnessing first-hand the dire plight of refugees was gut-wrenching and moved several members to donate cash. Jordan currently has more than 600,000 Syrian refugees – approximately 80 percent live in urban areas in the north, while the remaining 20 percent live in refugee camps. The group also participated in an awards ceremony at an Orphan Centre, met with the board of the Conservation of the Holy Quran Society in Amman and visited historical ruins at Jarash, Um Qais and others. At least two important lessons were reiterated to participants: the need to care for others and the essential requirement to study the Noble Quran.

Escaping, by the Grace of God, a snow storm in Amman the group travelled to Istanbul, the city of the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul was equally rich in history and seemed to amalgamate the meeting of East and West. The group’s first stop was to pray at the famous Fatih mosque, followed by visits to Topkapi museum, Sultan Ahmet and other significant places. The tour also included a breath-taking ferry ride on the Bosphorus River, shopping at the Grand Bazaar and eating delicious beans outside the Suleimaniyeh mosque. One particular highlight was joining the program of Quran reading and remembrance after the dawn prayer at the Beyazit mosque led by Imam Suat Goztok.

From Istanbul the tour moved to Dubai where HAI has its headquarters. Group members were honoured to meet with His Highness Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Member of the Supreme Council UAE and Ruler of Ajman. Sheikh Nuaimi emphasised to the young leaders the need to support education of the underprivileged. The group then visited the headquarters of HAI in Ajman where presentations about the orphan program and the various humanitarian projects were observed. The group also participated in a workshop on leadership, followed by lunch in the desert and quad biking on the hot sand dunes of Dubai.

The overwhelming feedback from participants was “a trip of a life time,” one that they would never forget. Special acknowledgment goes to Our World Travel in Wollongong for their stellar service and hotel upgrade in Mecca.

Tour members: Sydney (-, Omar Al-Jamal, Yusuf Assem, Omer Elgun, Mohamed Omran, Mohammad Qasim, Abdullah Rafik, Ziyad Serhan), Melbourne (Oussama Abou-Zeid, Omar Dennaoui, Omran Omer, Youssef Toutounji), Adelaide (Simon Kwan, David Perrotta), Canberra (Salahuddin Omari).

Zachariah Matthews, activist, speaker and trainer is the Executive Director of Sydney based Deen Academy with the aim of “Inspiring profound understanding”.