JEDDAH: Hundreds of thousands of faithful Muslims have arrived in the tent city of Mina in preparation for the annual Hajj, which is the largest gathering of Muslims in the world.More than 1.6 million pilgrims have come from around the world for the Hajj and will be joined by nearly one million from within the Kingdom, including a large number of expatriate workers. Saudi Arabia has completed all preparations for the annual event, and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has instructed all Hajj-related ministries and agencies to mobilize all their resources in the service of the guests of God.
All Muslims are required to perform Hajj at least once in their lifetimes if they have the means to do so. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will take part in this year’s Hajj as the king’s guest along with other foreign dignitaries including Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi. King Abdullah has invited 1,000 guests to perform Hajj this year.
Pilgrims from nearly 150 countries are taking part in the Hajj. Indonesia, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey have sent the largest numbers of pilgrims. About 31,000 Iraqis have also arrived for the Hajj, bringing the total number of Arab pilgrims to more than 350,000.
Saudi authorities have announced that the standing on the Mount of Arafat in prayer by pilgrims, the high point of the annual pilgrimage, will take place tomorrow. The following day will be Eid Al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice, when Muslims slaughter lambs, goats, cows, and or camels to mark Prophet Ibrahim’s readiness to sacrifice his son Ismail upon instructions from God.
Many pilgrims have started to leave for Mina yesterday after circumambulating the Holy Kaaba, the first house of worship on Earth, built by Adam. Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismail rebuilt it some 5,000 years ago. Most Manasik-e-Hajj are related to Prophet Ibrahim, his wife Hagera and Ismail, and thus reflect the unity of humanity.
The Saudi government has given top priority to the security and safety of pilgrims and has deployed more than 50,000 security forces in Makkah and other holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah to ensure a safe and secure Hajj for the guests of God.
A total of 11,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics will be on hand to provide medical care, with 4,200 beds in 21 hospitals and 145 health centers in Makkah, and the other holy places. According to the Saudi Press Agency, 85 ambulances have also been prepared and health alerts will be issued in case of any outbreaks of contagious diseases. The Health Ministry has given polio vaccinations to more than 200,000 pilgrims from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Sudan and Chad, according to Dr. Khaled Al-Zahrani, assistant health minister for preventive medicine.
He ruled out the possibility of a bird flu outbreak among pilgrims. “Avian flu rarely transfers from birds to humans and we have taken all measures to prevent the spread of this disease,” Zahrani said. “We have banned the import of birds and the transportation of live birds between the Kingdom’s regions for more than three years. So there is no need to worry about infected birds in the holy places,” he said, adding that no case of bird flu in humans has so far been detected in the Kingdom.
Measures have been taken to prevent a repeat of the high death tolls that have often characterized past pilgrimages. The government has spent SR4.2 billion on the high-tech Jamrat Bridge project in order to help pilgrims perform the stoning ritual easily without stampedes.
The Scouts Organization has published a directory of Mina and Arafat containing more than 3,000 bits of information related to Tawafa organizations, government departments and public service centers in the Holy Sites. Dr. Abdullah Al-Fahd, supervisor of service camps, said the directory was published after conducting a survey of the holy places.
The Haj is one the five major pillars, or tenets, of Islam that followers of the religion must abide by. The others are the Shahadah, the declaration of the faith; Salah the five daily prayers; Zakah or mandatory giving of a portion of a person’s wealth to the needy; and Saum or fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Interior Minister Prince Naif, who is chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee, inspected the arrangements in the holy sites on Saturday and said the government had done the utmost to ensure the security and safety of pilgrims. He also watched a military parade, which involved selected units from the commando, anti-terrorism, anti-riot, bombs removal, sniper, rapid intervention and crowd management units of the Saudi security forces. Water cannon trucks, light armored personnel carriers, emergency rescue helicopters, ambulances and dinghies were also displayed.
Asked what the biggest challenge for the Saudi Arabia is during the Haj season, the minister replied: “With God’s help we will not have any problem, but we are nonetheless ready for any eventuality.” Maj. Gen. Saleh Mohammed Al-Shihri, commander of the Central Control of the Haj Security, said 1,150 cameras had been placed in several areas to monitor them. Several helicopters, fitted with these cameras, will hover over the pilgrims.
Maj. Gen. Ali Al-Sahli, assistant commander of Hajj security forces, said security forces were fully prepared to welcome pilgrims. He highlighted the role of security officers during Hajj and their protection of pilgrims from pickpockets and other criminals.“Criminal police have been deployed in the holy sites to prevent crimes before they take place,” Sahli told Arab News. “We have been successful in arresting a large number of criminals including pickpockets and thieves,” he added.-SANA