Saturday August 18, 2018
By Muhammad Yamany
Muslim pilgrims from Somalia rest while they climb the Mount Al-Noor, where Muslims believe Prophet Mohammad received the first words of the Koran through Gabriel in the Hera cave, ahead of annual Haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY ZOHRA BENSEMRA/Reuters
Hisham Mostafa briefly forgot the war in
Syria and his financial worries as he looked upon Islam’s holiest sites
for the first time, standing among hundreds of thousands of white-clad
Muslims gathered in Mecca ahead of the haj pilgrimage.
is the first time I see the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba. It is the best
feeling of my life to be able to perform the haj,” said Mostafa, 50, as
he looked at the cube-shaped structure towards which Muslims turn in
prayer five times a day.
accountant traveled to Saudi Arabia from Turkey where he has lived for
five years since fleeing Aleppo in Syria. “War destroys everything ...
Life in Turkey is hard and I barely earn enough.” But
he was able to join about 2 million Muslims, including 1.68 million
from abroad, flooding Mecca’s narrow streets for the annual rite which
starts on Sunday.
Nayef Ahmed, 37,
told Reuters that in order to afford the haj he had to sell a plot of
land in Yemen, which is embroiled in a three-year proxy war between
Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“Because of the war the prices are very high. But being here I feel comfort and peace and I pray to God for the war to end.”
Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest
sites and organizing a peaceful haj, which has been marred in the past
by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.
interior ministry has put in place measures to confront any security
threat from militant attacks to political protests, but no specific
threats have been detected, a spokesman said.
will prevent any actions that are not part of the haj ritual and any
act that may impact the safety of pilgrims or their ability to perform
the rite,” Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki told Reuters.
Every able-bodied Muslim who has the means should perform the haj at least once in their lifetime under a quota system.
came for umrah (minor pilgrimage) in 2007 and today after 10 years of
registering and waiting, I am here,” said Najwa, 59, from Tunisia. “I
cannot describe the feeling. I cry every day.”
haj itinerary retraces the route Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries
ago. Saudi Arabia has made use of technology to manage the flow of
millions at the same place at the same time.
This includes electronic identification bracelets, connected to GPS, that were introduced after a 2015 crush killed hundreds.
is a comprehensive electronic agenda for every pilgrim and we have
provided many apps that offer guidance,” Minister of Haj and Umrah
Mohammed Bintin told Reuters.
“We have a fleet of more than 18,000 buses, all of them linked to a control system that tracks their path.”
He said a high speed railway between Mecca and Medina had been completed and was being now being tested.
is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify
the kingdom’s economy away from oil. The haj and year-round umrah
generate billions of dollars in revenues from worshippers’ lodging,
transport, fees and gifts.
aim to increase the number of umrah and haj pilgrims to 15 million and 5
million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the umrah number again
to 30 million by 2030.