Millions of Muslims arrive in Mecca for haj

Sunday 11/09/2016
Muslim pilgrims preparing for Friday prayers in front of Kaaba

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.