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Haj rituals begin, Indonesian pilgrims first to reach Mina
Sunday October 13, 2013 9:57 AM, News Network

Hundreds of thousands of Haj pilgrims began streaming into tent city at Mina by foot, on buses and in four-wheel drives late Saturday amid extreme heat and humidity. On their way, pilgrims were met by many checkpoints manned by security men, health officials and traffic police, who asked pilgrims to display their Haj permits, Siraj Wahab reported for Arab News from the holy site.

The much feared mobile fingerprint machines were nowhere to be seen.

Although skies were overcast, high temperatures ensued while pilgrims flooding into Makkah suffered traffic jams that turned a regular 40-minute drive from Jeddah into a grueling 3-and-a-half-hour marathon.

Helicopters hovered overhead, directing security officials on the ground.

Despite strict measures taken by security officials, an Arab News reporter witnessed numerous illegal pilgrims dodging checkpoints and taking detours through mountainous routes.

Indonesian pilgrims were the first to arrive inside Mina. Pilgrims were awestruck by the white landscape inside tent city.

Among the first Saudi officials to arrive in Mina was Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, minister of health. He visited the Emergency Center Health Complex in Mina and spoke to journalists.

He told Arab News: "There is no reason to panic because we have not detected a single case of MERS among pilgrims thus far. There is no epidemic whatsoever." He said health care precautions have been taken in line with international regulations to screen pilgrims coming into the holy sites from 16 entry points.

"Every single pilgrim has been vaccinated and full care has been taken in Mina to quell health threats," the minister said.

Al-Rabeeah said that pilgrims should wear masks as a precaution.

"We are not aware of how this virus is transmitted, so we have advised pilgrims to wear masks in crowded areas as a precautionary measure."

There are hundreds of health care workers manning dozens of hospitals and dispensaries.

Traffic flowed smoothly into Mina. However, inside Makkah, the situation was different. The Grand Mosque was packed with pilgrims as they embarked on their journey to the holy sites.
The first phase will see pilgrims move to Mina by Sunday afternoon, where they will spend the night reciting the Holy Qur'an or catching up on sleep.

Pakistani Ambassador Muhammad Naim Khan said everything is going smoothly.

Indian Consul General Faiz Ahmad Kidwai told Arab News that Indian pilgrims were moving into the tent city in groups. "Everything is going according to the plans charted by our mission in close coordination with the Saudi Haj authorities," he said.

An Indian pilgrim, Ibrahim Mohammad Noor, said: "I am so happy to be here." His wife, Romana Talib, said: "We have been waiting for this moment all my life. I am so happy I can't tell you. Thank you, Allah, for helping me come here."

Laiquddin Munaf, a British pilgrim, described his journey as a dream. "I have to pinch myself again and again to reassure myself that I am in Makkah and Mina and that I am about to perform Haj," he said.

Seventy-year-old Fatima Bibi from Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan, was brought into the tent city by her son. "This is my son Arif. He promised me that he would bring me here and he kept his promise," she said.

On Firiday, people dressed in ihram, a two-piece seamless garment of white cloth, filled the area around the Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest place of worship, which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba and is witnessing massive construction work, AFP reported.

The Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is mandatory once in a lifetime for all Muslims provided they are physically fit and financially capable.

"I am very excited and extremely happy," said Hamza Sulaiman, a 56-year-old civil servant from Malaysia. "I feel I am a very lucky person that I am performing the Haj.

"I registered for the Haj 10 years ago and my turn came this year. I really want to come here every year."

Egyptian businessman Ahmad Al Bahrawi, who is performing the Haj for the sixth time, accompanied by his wife, said: "it's an entirely different feeling that cannot be described when I enter the Grand Mosque and look at the Kaaba."

Monday marks the most important day, when everyone assembles at Mount Arafat, just outside Makkah, for the peak of the Haj.

The kingdom has mobilised 95,000 members of the security forces, in addition to troops supporting the defence ministry, the national guard and intelligence, according to the interior minister.


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