News / Health

Hajj Pilgrims Risk Health with Unlicensed Head Shaves

A Muslim pilgrim has his head shaved after casting pebbles at a pillar that symbolizes Satan during the annual hajj pilgrimage, on the first day of Eid al-Adha in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Oct. 15, 2013.
A Muslim pilgrim has his head shaved after casting pebbles at a pillar that symbolizes Satan during the annual hajj pilgrimage, on the first day of Eid al-Adha in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Oct. 15, 2013.
Reuters
Every year hundreds of part-time, unlicensed barbers flock to the holy city of Mena to shave the heads of pilgrims observing the last step in performing the hajj as desired by the Prophet Mohammad.

“I'm shaving my head because this is what the Prophet asked us to do, and it's really hot now, so having a shaved head isn't a bad idea,” said Yemeni Mohamed Hassan, as he crouched on the ground under a barber's razor.

“We are on hajj, so God will cause no harm to us,” he said, wiping dripping blood from his head with his hands.

The barbers wield the same razor on dozens of men, exponentially increasing the chances of spreading sickness and disease among this year's estimated two million pilgrims on hajj, which started on Monday.

It's a practice the Saudi Health Ministry has been trying to stamp out for years. The barbers avoid arrest by maintaining they are relatives of their clients, and claiming not to receive compensation for their service.

This year, in addition to bringing in licensed barbers from around the country and putting up posters as usual, the authorities have flooded television and radio with warnings of the potential health hazards.

It's a tough sell. The owner of a licensed shop in Mena said with many of the pilgrims on a tight budget, at least 60 percent go to the unofficial barbers or shave themselves.

“I can't afford to pay anything over 10 riyals [$2.7] and the barbers that the government approves here are expensive,” said Salam Assem, a factory worker from Egypt.

No solid data

Saudi Health Ministry officials say it is difficult to know how many pilgrims contract diseases because of razor-sharing because they return to their home countries after their visits, complicating data collection and coordination. But the concerns are very real.

“Sharing razors can be incredibly dangerous,” said Amin al-Mahdi, physician manager of a hospital in Mena during hajj.

“Through open wounds, viruses like HIV, hepatitis C and B in addition to malaria can be transferred from one person to another. And even through dirty hands there's a risk of getting mange and other skin infections,” he said.

Such infections are only part of the health risks associated with the physically demanding hajj.

A 2008 study by the Journal of Infection and Public Health detailed a long list of what it called “extreme stressors” during the hajj - heat, sun exposure, thirst, crowding, traffic congestion, steep inclines and rough ground underfoot.

Health experts say countries that send large numbers of pilgrims can help by warning their citizens of the dangers before they visit.

Abdel Rahman Rajab, a student from Jeddah, said taking the risk of shaving on the streets was not worth it.

“I came to a licensed barber because at least I know the razor he's using is new, and he took it out of the packet in front of my eyes,” he said. “I paid 50 riyals for a shave: It's a lot of money but it's better than getting a dangerous virus.”
  • A Muslim girl holds a balloon during a morning prayer marking the Eid al-Adha holiday on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct. 15, 2013.
  • Muslims travel on the roof of a train as they head to their homes ahead of Eid al-Adha as others wait at a railway station in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Oct. 15, 2013.
  • Members of the Afghan guard of honor perform Eid al-Adha prayers outside a mosque at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct 15, 2013.
  • Afghan men prepare to slaughter a buffalo during Eid al-Adha at Kacha Garhi Afghan refugee camp, located in the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, Oct. 15, 2013.
  • An Egyptian man holds a knife after slaughtering an animal on the first day of Eid al-Adha in Cairo, Oct. 15, 2013.
  • Butcher Hossam Hassan cuts lamb during Eid Al-Adha rituals in Maadi, Cairo, Oct. 15, 2013. (Hamada Elrasam for VOA)
  • A young Palestinian girl attends prayers on the first day of Eid al-Adha at Al-Yarmouk stadium in Gaza City, Oct. 15, 2013.
  • Muslims pray outside Moscow's main mosque during celebrations of Eid al-Adha, Oct. 15, 2013.

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: powerandprivilege from: USA
October 16, 2013 2:27 PM
The Muslim pilgrims to holy Mecca probably do not realize that they practice ancient Vedic customs: shaving their heads, taking a dip in 'holy water,' wear white robes [called dhoti in Sanskrit], and circum-ambulate around the Kaaba. Islam forbids idolatry. So, what is the significance of pilgrimage to Mecca about? If Allah/God/Divine is everywhere, has the original purpose of the rituals in Mecca been lost or suppressed through history? Perhaps the Imaams ought to give this some thought and seek what binds us all on this small planet - a common ancestry.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs