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Haj 2011: Over 2.5mn set for once in a lifetime journey of faith

Friday November 04, 2011 03:22:01 PM, Badea Abu Al-Naja & Siraj Wahab

Mina (Saudi Arabia): The holy city of Makkah reverberated with chants of “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik” (O God, here I am answering your call) as nearly three million pilgrims from around the world readied themselves for what is often described as once in a lifetime journey of faith.

Large groups of pilgrims have started arriving in the tent city of Mina for the Yaum Al-Tarwiya ritual where they will spend the day and night of Friday in prayer and meditation before heading for Arafat on Saturday in the climax of the annual pilgrimage.

More than 2.5 million pilgrims, including 1.8 million who have come from abroad, will take part in this year’s Haj, the largest annual gathering of Muslims in the world. Saudi Arabia has mobilized all its resources to make the annual event a big success and hassle-free.

The pilgrims arrived in Mina by walking and on buses and other vehicles, chanting Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. About 50,000 officers have been deployed in various parts of Makkah and the holy sites to ensure the security and safety of pilgrims and smooth flow of vehicles.

Islamic scholar professor Akhtarul Wasey, who is the guest of the Ministry of Haj, said the atmosphere in Makkah is highly emotional. “There is real spirit of Islam here. People from all corners of the globe are united by their faith in One God and the message of the Last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Everyone is praying for every one and trying to console each other. Everyone is spiritually charged. You can see it on their faces. They seem very close to their Creator.”

The pilgrims are excited.

“Alhamdulillah, I am among Allah’s chosen ones,” said 61-year-old Indonesian pilgrim Sumiti. “There are hundreds and thousands people whose only wish is to be in this holy land on this auspicious occasion. Many of them take their wish to the grave. I am the lucky one and I thank Allah for giving me this opportunity. I will pray for all Muslims, and of course my sons and daughters.”

Faheem Abdul Qader, a middle-aged Indian pilgrim, said he still can’t believe that he is about to perform Haj. “I was in Saudi Arabia eight years ago. I had a job in Riyadh but I could neither perform Umrah nor Haj during the six months that I stayed on the job. And here I am exclusively to perform Haj. Allah has his ways. We just need to be patient,” he said. “I am delighted beyond words and looking forward to walking all the way to Mina. The weather is good and I want to live and breathe this place and feel this air.”

Muhammad Habib Talib, an orthodontist from Lahore, said one just can’t explain his feelings here and now. “I only know one thing: Our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) asked us to undertake this journey. His words are command to us. We will do as he told us to do. People before undertook this journey and people after us will undertake this journey till the Day of Judgment.”

And what will be uppermost in his prayers? “Of course, the well-being of my country Pakistan. We want peace to reign in our lands. We want deliverance,” said Talib.

Brig. Saeed Al-Qarni, commander of Civil Defense forces in Mina, said his department’s firefighting, rescue and civil protection units have been readied to confront any eventualities. “We have 46 units spread in various parts of the holy sites,” he told Arab News. He said a number of firefighters on motorbikes have been deployed to reach out to fire accidents quickly. “We have given special training to our officers to deal with floods and stampedes,” Al-Qarni said.

Col. Abdullah Al-Saif, assistant commander of Civil Defense, said his department has taken into consideration all possible dangers for pilgrims and taken precautionary measures to avert them. “We are also following the movement of pedestrians and vehicles through tunnels to avoid any mishaps.”

Large numbers of security forces have been deployed near the Jamrat Bridge, where pilgrims will throw stones at pillars representing satan for three days in a row, beginning from Sunday. They will also keep a close watch on the Mashair Railway operating in full swing this year to transport about a million pilgrims.

The Haj Ministry has coordinated with Tawafa organizations for pilgrims from different countries to transport their pilgrims at specific times in order to avoid congestion on roads leading to Mina.

Haj Minister Fouad Al-Farsy said his ministry would punish Haj service agents involved in selling Haj permits, adding that their licenses would be suspended. He also disclosed plans to reduce the service fee of Tawafa organization to the minimum.

“Efforts are also under way to increase space in the holy sites and construct permanent resident buildings there to accommodate more pilgrims,” the minister what quoted as saying by Al-Madinah Arabic daily. “We are going ahead with various Haj development projects with a futuristic vision,” he added. Al-Farsy said there was no delay in allotting tents in Mina to pilgrims this year.

Throughout Thursday the pilgrims were reciting verse from the Holy Qur’an and performing prayers. Many had a challenging time circumambulating the Holy Kaaba in the center of the Grand Mosque before the trek to Mina.

Police have set up dozens of checkpoints at all roads and highways leading into Makkah to stop those without valid Haj permits from undertaking the journey. But despite all the checkpoints, there were still a number of people who were trying to circumvent their way into Makkah. But their number seemed far less compare to previous years. A major reason for this development is the fatwa (religious edict) from Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh who advised everyone not to disobey the rules governing the performance of Haj.

Many pilgrims were seen making telephone calls to their beloved ones before donning the ihram, the two pieces of seamless cloth worn by the pilgrims.

The Haj is one the five major pillars, or tenets, of Islam that followers of the religion must abide by. The others are the Shahadah, the declaration of the faith; Salah the five daily prayers; Zakah or mandatory giving of a portion of a person’s wealth to the needy; and Saum or fasting during the month of Ramadan.

On Saturday, 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 on Sunday and will spend the final two days in Mina to take part in the symbolic stoning of the devil.

(Courtesy: Arab News)








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