[Pilgrims offer prayer at the historic Masjid Al-Qaif in Mina on Sunday. (AN photo by Khidr Al-Zahrani)]
By SIRAJ WAHAB
MINA: Nearly 2 million pilgrims arrived in Mina on Sunday as part of the first phase of Haj 2013. What was a ghost town until Saturday evening was teeming with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, men and women, young and old. They were reciting “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik” (O God, here I am answering your call) and verses from the Holy Qur’an.
Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif said the number of pilgrims from outside the country totaled 1.37 million, down 21 percent from last year’s 1.75 million.
Around 1.29 million of them had flown to the Kingdom from 188 countries, he said.
The reduced number of pilgrims is due to the massive expansion projects in Makkah and government’s aggressive campaign to bar undocumented pilgrims from undertaking the pilgrimage.
Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said that over 70,000 violators who tried to infiltrate the holy sites were turned away.
Security forces seized more than 138,000 vehicles. “The international media has gotten it wrong when it attributed the lesser number of pilgrims to the so-called coronavirus fear,” said Mufreh Al-Ghamdi, a volunteer at a Haj establishment. “The health minister has made it very clear that there has not been a single case of coronavirus among pilgrims.”
Many pilgrims walked the 12-km distance from Makkah to Mina to avoid being caught up in traffic. Helicopters flew overhead and security forces kept a close watch on any untoward activity.
Water sprinklers placed on pedestrian walkways helped keep the intense heat at bay. Once inside the tent city, the pilgrims focused on prayers and the Qur’an recitation.
The weather was extremely hot in the morning, forcing many pilgrims to take frequent breaks along the routes to their camps. As the evening wore on, a mild breeze blew across the valley, cooling the temperatures.
Many pilgrims tried to catch some sleep after a tiring journey from Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and Dammam.
The center of activity in Mina was the historic Masjid Al-Qaif. Most pilgrims deposited their luggage in their tents, and headed straight to the mosque, which was full.
Pilgrims praying Dohr, Asr and Maghreb in the huge mosque was a sight to behold.
Soon after the prayers many pilgrims were seen exchanging salutations and greetings with complete strangers. “I am delighted beyond words,” said Rawan Mustafa, an Egyptian pilgrim. “It is only when you come here for the Haj do you realize that you are part of such a huge community of Muslims.” “Syria is suffering and that means that the Arabs and the Muslims are also suffering,” Abdel-Karim Ahmed was quoted as saying by the AP. “I will beseech Allah to lift the suffering of the Syrian people and stop the bloodshed.”
Saeed Al-Dabbagh, from Palestine, said: “It is such a beautiful feeling to walk in the footsteps of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) in this holy land. I am praying for peace.”
Yasin Kanchwala, from Surat, India, was equally ecstatic. “These beautiful white tents reflect peace and purity,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has deployed more than 100,000 troops to ensure the safety of the pilgrims. Security forces are monitoring the holy sites with 4,200 high-tech cameras, some of which can cover a distance of 60 km.
On Monday, the pilgrims will head to the nearby plains of Arafat in what is widely described as the climax of Haj. At Arafat, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh will address the congregation from Masjid Al-Nimira. With the Muslim world in massive churning, the message from the topmost scholar will be heard with utmost attention, inside and outside the holy land.