Millions of Muslims arrive in Mecca for haj
JEDDAH - The annual haj officially began on September 10th, drawing an estimated 2 million Muslims from 180 countries to Mecca to perform the five-day rituals considered one the five main pillars of Islam.
Muslim pilgrims have been travelling to Saudi Arabia since early August, dividing their time between the holy sites in Mecca and Medina in anticipation to what is to many the most important religious experience of their lives.
Some 216 international pilgrims were not allowed to enter the kingdom, passport officials said, and were sent back to respective countries due to violations, which included 52 forged passports.
Saudi authorities, with an eye to tragic accidents last year in which hundreds died, have taken the security and safety of haj pilgrims to new heights in terms of planning, safety and the use of the latest technologies to ensure the well-being of the kingdom’s guests.
For the first time the Saudi Ministry of Haj provided pilgrims with identification bracelets that carry a computer chip with the wearer’s personal information and contact data that includes what delegation the pilgrim belongs to.
With temperatures predicted to exceed 37 degrees Celsius during the pilgrimage, the Ministry of Haj is addressing the potential for heat-related health problems with doctors from the King Abdullah Medical City using state-of-the-art cooling vests designed to treat heatstroke for the first time during the haj.
Additionally, the Saudi Ministry of Health stationed more than 26,000 medical and technical personnel from different regions of the kingdom to help pilgrims.
The Grand Mosque’s security forces completed preparations for the haj and appear to have incorporated a new security plan, according to Commander of Task Force for the Security of the Grand Mosque Major-General Mohammed al-Harbi.
Harbi, at a news conference in Mina, said: “The plan of the Grand Mosque’s security force was built on well-studied scientific bases and has the advantage of reports of previous haj seasons by enhancing the positives and avoiding the negatives in a way worthy of what has been accorded by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of great care and attention of pilgrims, Umrah performers and visitors of Mecca’s Holy Mosque.”
More than 100,000 troops were deployed in Mecca and 4,500 Saudi Boy Scouts volunteered to assist pilgrims in Mecca and visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.
The fifth pillar of Islam, haj is a ritual Muslims should perform at least once in their lifetime. To perform the rite, one must be an adult Muslim with a sound mind and the physical ability to perform the rituals. The worshipper must also have the financial resources to make the pilgrimage and still provide for one’s dependents at home.
Successfully completing haj, usually over five days during Dhu al- Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, is believed by Muslims to give the worshipper a place in paradise.