I have always been fascinated about the hajj and umrah drivers’ ability to drive for more than 24 hours without any sleep, and about their ability to smoothly drive huge buses in the narrow streets of Makkah. Therefore, during my Ramadan 1433 umrah trip, I interviewed our bus driver to learn more about their lives. Here is the interview:
What is your name?
Where are you from?
How did you come into this profession? What do you used to do before you joined as a driver for hajj and umrah campaign?
I am in this profession of driving heavy vehicles for 25 years. I used to be a trailer driver. I drove trailer for ten years for a private company in Qatar. Then in 1997, I got an opportunity to bring a hajj campaign for the first time. I was very eager about hajj, and I am very grateful to Allah for that opportunity. After I successfully drove back that hajj campaign to Qatar, I was appointed as a full time driver for Al-Ali Hajj and Umrah Campaign. I have done 15 hajj so far and have lost count about the number of umrahs I have performed.
In the beginning when I used to drive for hajj, I would drive for 52 hours without any sleep in the middle and I would be the only driver of the bus. I would stop only for prayer and food.
Has it ever happened that you slept for a minute or a few seconds while driving?
No, it never happened in 15 years.
Mashallah, that is great. Has your bus ever broken down in the middle of a journey?
Yes, it happened once. On 27 July, 2000 we were about three hundred kilometers away from Riyadh when the engine of my bus broke down. We arranged a bus from Riyadh to transport the pilgrims. Later, my bus was taken to Riyadh and the engine was repaired there.
For my job, I have to go to Ras Laffan everyday and it is about 77 kilometers from my house. Initially the drive to Ras Laffan used to seem a very long travel for me. However, after driving there for several months when I become familiar with the road and its surrounding, 77 kilometers seem nothing to me now a days. Since you have been driving for hajj and umrah campaign for 15 years, does the road from Doha to Makkah also feel very short to you?
My experience is opposite to yours. Definitely the route between Doha and Makkah is a long route, but in the beginning, I used to be so eager and so excited about hajj and umrah that my excitement and eagerness would make this distance seem very short to me. After so many years, however, I have got little bored and now I feel that the road is actually very long.
How many times normally in a month do you drive a campaign from Qatar to Saudi and from Saudi to Qatar?
On average three return journeys every month.
I have heard from people that there are tablets that long distance drivers take to remain awake and drive continuously. Does such tablet exist? If they do, do you take these tablets to remain awake while driving?
Yes, there are some tablets like that but they are not legal. Some long drivers who drive in Saudi Arabia take them. But I do not take them because they are harmful for health.
When people go for hajj and umrah, especially those who go for the first time, they feel very excited about seeing the House of Allah and visiting Mosque of the Messenger of Allah (S). As a bus driver, do you feel this excitement and joy of your passengers?
Definitely. I fully understand and share the excitement of my passengers. I get very excited when my passengers come and ask me questions like, “What will I have to do there?”, “When will we reach the miqaat?”, “How far are we away from such and such place?”, “What is our next stop?”, and I meticulously answer to each question. I enjoy my job.
Do you need a visa like us every time you enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Are you given some kind of special pass?
Yes, we need visa but drivers are given three months or six months multiple entry and multiple exit visas. Sometimes we also come with single entry and single exit one month visa.
Since you have been driving for so many years, what changes have you observed in the roads?
No change, except that a new road has been built to bypass the city of Hufof. Previously we had to go through Hufof but now we can bypass the city. Also the first five hundred kilometers of Madinah-Riyadh highway used to be single carriageway, but now it has been converted to dual carriageway.
However, roads are taken care of and maintenance is done year round.
How many times do you visit Pakistan each year?
I stay eight months in Qatar and four months in Pakistan. After hajj, I take my vacation.