Posted by abu ameerah on Saturday, December 30, 2006
KUWAITTIMES.NET – MAKKAH: More than two million Muslim faithful performed prayers on Mount Arafat near Makkah yesterday during one of the high points of the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Men wearing the two pieces of unstitched white cloth that tradition says will serve as their shrouds and women entirely covered apart from their faces and hands tirelessly repeated the formal ritual together. “I am here in response to your call, Lord, I am here…” the crowds chanted in a multitude of accents as they gathered on a plain bounded by hills. “You have no equal. To you the praise, from you the favour – and royalty belongs only to you.”
It was on Mount Arafat – also called Jebel Al-Rahma, or Mount Mercy – that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave his final sermon more than 14 centuries ago. The more zealous of the pilgrims scaled the rocky hill prostrated. The “Wuquf” ceremony they performed there symbolises Man’s wait for judgment day. At midday, the faithful prayed together at Namera mosque, built on the site where the prophet himself prayed in pilgrimage. The pilgrims were to spend the rest of the day in prayer and asking for God’s forgiveness. According to a government source, 1,654,407 pilgrims – 55 per cent of them males – had arrived for the haj from 187 countries. More than half a million Muslims in Saudi Arabia had also joined the pilgrimage.
“We have come to ask God to allow Islam and Muslims to triumph,” said Abdul Alim Mahmud, a 40-year-old Egyptian. Pakistani Chir Omar, 38, said he had prayed for “peace in the world … especially the Muslim world”. Afghan devotee Wali Mohammed, 35, wished “strength for Islam and peace in the world”. “Whenever I stand on Jebel Al-Rahma I feel reborn,” said Ruquia Manouzi, a Moroccan woman. “There is a great feeling of spirituality fillso you on haj, with this divine atmosphere and cooperation among Muslims,” said Shakir Bakr, a student of religion from Mali. Mohamado Thiam, a telecoms engineer from Senegal, said pilgrims were praying for Muslims in hotspots around the world. “I’m very happy, look how our nation is expanding,” he said. “But we have to pray for our brethren in Iraq, in Palestine, in Sudan. There are people dying there.”
Addressing pilgrims in a sermon at Mount Arafat, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh warned against staging political demonstrations and called on Muslims to unite. “The haj rites are not the place for slogans, postures and name-calling,” he said. “The world today is full of hateful party and nationalistic slogans … all we see is fighting, blood and terrorism, the result of erroneous ideological struggles.”
The authorities have said they will crack down hard on Muslims who try to sneak into Makkah without official permits. But at Mount Arafat yesterday, there were few indications that the new measures had been successful. Roads and pathways were lined with beggars, traders and pilgrims without permits who had bought tents to sleep in and shelter from the sun. “This is my fourth time. The great thing about living in this country is you can do haj,” said Zahir, a Syrian living in Saudi Arabia. A security officer standing beside a group of people camping with sleeping bags and cooking utensils said there was nothing the authorities could do about them.
Meanwhile at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca itself, the massive Kaaba monument was being draped in a new “kiswa”, its silk cover adorned with Koranic verses embroidered in gold thread. The cost of the “kiswa” is estimated at five million dollars. Muslims face the Kaaba when they pray five times a day. At sunset yesterday, the faithful were to move towards the Muzdalifah valley several kilometres (miles) from Mount Arafat, to spend the night. Due to the icy temperatures, Saudi Arabia‘s chief cleric Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh issued a fatwa (religious decree) allowing devotees to use blankets during the night provided they do not cover their heads.
On Saturday morning, pilgrims return to Mina for the last part of the haj – the ritual stoning of three pillars representing Satan. This is potentially the most dangerous part of the pilgrimage, and the scene in previous years of deadly stampedes created by bottlenecks. The last haj in January was marred by a deadly stampede which killed 364 people at Mina during the ritual, while a similar tragedy in 2004 saw 251 people trampled to death there. At Mina the pilgrims will later sacrifice a beast, generally a sheep, in remembrance of the sacrifice God asked Abraham to perform by giving up his son to prove his devotion.
This ritual marks today’s start of Eid Al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. Thousands of Saudi security forces have been deployed along the routes being used by the pilgrims, and official media said security and health authorities have been mobilised to ensure the safety of the faithful during the often risky ceremonies, with dozens of field hospitals and clinics set up in the area. The annual haj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, which Muslims are expected to perform at least once in their lives if they have the means to do so. It ends on Monday.
I just felt like throwing this in….