Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims began their slow and steady trek
to the tent city of Mina on Saturday night in the first leg of
their five-day journey. Almost all pilgrims will be in their tents
by Sunday afternoon. They will spend a day in contemplation before
moving to the Plains of Arafat Monday in what is described as the
most significant ritual of the pilgrimage.
Earlier in the day, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King
Abdullah appointed Second Deputy Premier and Interior Minister
Prince Naif to oversee Haj. Prince Naif, who is also chairman of
the Supreme Haj Committee, has been in Makkah this last week,
supervising security arrangements for the pilgrimage.
Prince Naif's designation came a day after doctors asked the king
to rest due to a disc problem.
In Makkah, hundreds of buses and smaller shuttles packed with
pilgrims were headed toward Mina. Young and healthy pilgrims,
however, decided to walk the distance. Saudi authorities said all
arrangements were in place for the world’s largest Muslim
The logistics required to support the millions of pilgrims are
Interior Ministry officials told foreign journalists that all
preparations for Haj were complete. In addition to the thousands
of vehicles, pilgrims will use a train service to travel between
the holy sites. The Mashair Railway is expected to reduce
congestion on roads leading into and out of Mina, Arafat and
Thousands of food outlets have been set up to cater to the
faithful. Bakeries are equipped to prepare 10 million loaves of
bread a day. The Ministry of Health is geared and waiting to serve
the guests of God. It has opened dozens of health centers in the
holy sites to aid the faithful who should find Haj easier this
year thanks to the moderate weather. Local temperatures varied
between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius.
The Civil Defense has also made arrangements in the event of rain
and flash floods. “We’ve made special plans based on detailed
studies analyzing the possible dangers that could be caused by the
geography of Mina, which is surrounded by mountains on all sides,”
said Brig. Gen. Fhaid Al-Faidi, head of the Civil Defense in Mina.
Over 100 Civil Defense teams and paramedics are at hand to deal
with any eventuality; the teams also have some 200 motorbikes at
Al-Faidi called on pilgrims to follow instructions and said the
Civil Defense is working closely with Tawafa establishments.
“We’re receiving constant weather forecasts about rain. We’ve also
got a note of key areas where rain could cause serious issues.
There’s also a team of divers at our disposal, along with boats
and other flood-related rescue equipment — these are located in
the north side of Mina where flooding could be a problem if it
rains,” he said.
A special team is in place to monitor the level of pollution in
Mina’s 12 tunnels. “The team has advanced equipment to reduce
pollution, if the need arises. Tunnels will also be closed if the
quality of air is not suitable,” said Al-Faidi.
Among the early arrivals to Mina were old and young pilgrims who
felt it was better to start out in advance rather than getting
caught up in the general rush on Sunday.
“We came in early because the weather is pleasant, and we came on
foot from Makkah,” said Ibrahim Taj, a Sudanese national. “It took
us two hours to reach Mina, and we took a lot of breaks,” he said.
Shaukat Piracha of Pakistan's Aaj TV was also among the early
arrivals in Mina. “This is fascinating. I am not here to report on
the event. I am here in my personal capacity. I decided to come in
early to avoid traffic congestion,” he told Arab News. “Mina is
not a city of tents; it is a city of lights as well. I have never
seen such magnificent illumination. Hats off to Saudis for such
“I have been waiting for this moment all my life,” said an excited
Malaysian citizen, Habib Rasool. “I am overwhelmed by this sea of
white tents. I had an idea about what to expect, but then the
picture in my mind’s eye was nowhere near what I experienced here
Traffic moved swiftly down the highway from Jeddah. Busloads of
pilgrims and trucks packed with sheep drove along the right lanes
while police escorting VIPs whizzed by on the left. The four
checkpoints on the Jeddah-Makkah Expressway are fully manned but
caused no delay. In Mina, traffic congestion is being kept to a
minimum by keeping small vehicles away. Only 4x4 vehicles with
permits were being allowed in.
If spirituality and peace could ever be personified then it is
here — the tent city in Mina surrounded by Jabal Al-Noor (Mountain
of Light) and other hills, an abode of millions of pilgrims who
are all set to sacrifice their self to the will of God.
At the time of writing this report, the tent city was not yet
crowded; however, it was already teeming with life. As each group
of pilgrims enters the valley of Mina, it reverberates with chants
of “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik” (O God, here I am answering your
Once in the city and in their fireproof tents, the pilgrims busy
themselves reciting the Holy Qur’an and performing prayers or
trying to locate relatives. Many try to catch some sleep after a
tiring journey from Jeddah and Makkah that on average takes five
On Monday morning, the pilgrims will move toward Mount Arafat
where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered his last
sermon more than 14 centuries ago. The pilgrims will then return
to Mina after spending the night in Muzdalifah. They will throw
stones at Jamrat Al-Aqaba representing the devil and sacrifice
animals to mark the Eid Al-Adha, which starts Tuesday and will
spend the final two days in Mina to take part in the symbolic
stoning of the devil.
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