Haj ends with no organisational glitch, Saudis lauded
LONDON - The haj season, which saw nearly 2.5 million Muslims from around the world gather in Mecca to perform one of the five pillars of Islam, was a resounding success in terms of safety and organisation, officials said.
Despite a war in neighbouring Yemen and attempts to politicise the annual pilgrimage by countries such as Iran and Qatar, this year’s haj was, by most accounts, a harmonious event.
Many Arab leaders and senior officials congratulated Saudi Arabia on its organisation of the haj.
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah sent a congratulatory cable to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the conclusion of haj “praising the great success accomplished in this year’s pilgrimage.” Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa “extended his sincerest congratulations to King Salman on the great success of the haj season,” the state-run Bahrain News Agency said.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash posted on Twitter that Saudi Arabia had exerted “great efforts in the service of Islam.”
Millions of pilgrims participated in the last major ritual of the haj on August 11 with the symbolic “stoning of the devil,” which marks the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday.
Pilgrims were met with heavy rain as the haj drew to a close, leading to a significant drop in temperatures from the high 40s Celsius to the much more bearable 26 degrees, a much-welcomed development for many on the pilgrimage.
The Saudi Civil Defence urged pilgrims “to stay safe and cautious,” avoid low ground and not to touch metal objects connected to power because of the downpour. Commander of Civil Defence Mohammed al-Faraj reassured pilgrims that the rain did not cause flooding or damage.
The United Nation’s World Health Organisation (WHO) commended Saudi Arabia’s efforts in ensuring that the haj was free of outbreak of disease or public health issues.
“We saw that hospitals were well prepared and we saw their desire to serve the pilgrims. We also saw different sectors working together to support the pilgrims,” said Dr Ibrahim El-Ziq, WHO representative in Saudi Arabia.
“So, all in all, it has been a very successful season. We congratulate the Ministry of Health on a successful haj. There is no reporting of any infection or serious issues related to public health.”
Saudi Minister of Health Dr Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said approximately 500,000 pilgrims received medical care in hospitals and health centres in Mecca, Medina and various holy sites between July 4, when the haj season started, and August 13.
Mecca Governor and Chairman of the Central Haj Committee Prince Khalid Al-Faisal Al Saud said the final tally of pilgrims was 2,489,406, of whom 1,855,027 were from outside the kingdom and 634,379 were Saudis.
Prince Khalid said 336,000 permits had been given to Saudi citizens but domestic pilgrims without permits numbered another 298,379, a much lower figure of participants without permits from last year, when 383,000 Saudis without permits took part in the haj.
The fifth pillar of Islam, haj is a ritual Muslims should perform at least once. To perform the rite, one must be an adult Muslim of sound mind and possess the physical ability to perform the rituals. The worshipper must have the financial resources to make the pilgrimage and still provide for dependents at home.
Muslims believe that successfully completing haj, usually over five days during Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, gives the worshipper a place in paradise.