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Hajj 2010: Pilgrims set out for Mina

Sunday November 14, 2010 02:48:46 PM, Siraj Wahab

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Mina: 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 gathering.

The logistics required to support the millions of pilgrims are astounding.

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 Muzdalifah.

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 their disposal.

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 meticulous arrangements.”

“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 today.”

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 call).

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 hours.

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.

(Arab News)







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