The British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Simon Collis joined 19,000 Britishers amongst two million pilgrims to perform the Haj, annual pilgrimage to Makkah held earlier this week marked by the day of Arafah on Sunday 11 September, and Eid-al-Adha, celebrated globally on Monday 12 September 2016.
This years Haj has been hailed as the safest with no reported incidents and free of epidemic diseases. The Saudi authorities had taken extraordinary steps this year with preventive measures to avoid overcrowding, that last year led to crushes where more than 2000 pilgrims lost their lives.
Most pilgrims were issued with electronic bracelets containing all essential data for identification and contact together with monitoring of crowd flows using overhead drones. The World Health Organisation (WHO) commended the Saudi Ministry of Health and the health professionals working during the Haj for a job well done in looking after the Hajis.
The Haj coincided with the celebration of Eid-al-Adha, Celebration of Sacrifice by Muslims all over the world including Australia on Monday 12 September 2016.
The British ambassador, Mr Simon Collis, 60 performed Haj together with his wife Huda al-Mujarkech of Syrian background and were photographed in traditional white Ihram garments in front of the British consulate in Makkah. The father of five reportedly reverted to Islam in 2011 before his marriage to Ms Mujarkech and has been serving in his current position since January 2015.
In spite of Islamophobia sweeping the West together with vilification of Islam and demonisation of Muslims by the likes of Pauline Hanson in Australia, Geert Wilders in Europe and Donald Trump in US, increasing number of people in the West are embracing Islam which is seen by Muslims as a vindication of their religion’s universal appeal.
The first known British convert to Islam was Abdullah William Quilliam, a diplomatic representative of the Ottoman and Persian empires in the late 19th century who established the Quilliam institute in UK. Many Britishers since then have reverted to Islam, a number of them being key icons of British society including philosophers, poets, academics, politicians, diplomats and even musicians and clerics.
Mr Collis, fluent in Arabic tweeted during Haj that after living among Muslim cultures for thirty years he had converted to Islam prior to his marriage. Well wishers tweeted their congratulations to Mr Collis and his wife, to which he replied “Thank you and Eid Mubarak”, wishing them a blessed Eid festival.
He joined the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1978 and, after studying Arabic, has served mainly in the Arab world.
His first posting was to Bahrain as second secretary (1981-1984). He served as British ambassador to Iraq (2012-2014), Syria (2007-2012) and Qatar (2005-2007). He was the British consul-general in Dubai (2000-2004) and in Basra (2004-2005). He also served in New Delhi as first secretary from 1991 to 1994.