MAKKAH – Hundreds of thousands of white-clad Muslim pilgrims from around the globe began moving on Wednesday, August 30, to Mina on the first leg of their journey of a lifetime, preparing for the climax of their pilgrimage when they ascend Mount `Arafat.
“Every time, there are new emotions,” Tidjani Traore, a public service consultant from Benin, told AFP, adding he was preparing for his 22nd pilgrimage at the age of 53.
“There are innovations for organizing and hosting the pilgrims. Now, for example, the tents are air-conditioned.”
From early hours on Wednesday, nearly two millions of pilgrims embarked on their slow and steady trek to Mina in the first leg of their five-day journey.
Spirituality and peace were in the air in the sprawling tent city which is surrounded by (Mountain of Light) and other hills, as more pilgrims poured in with every hour, each group reverberating with chants of “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik” (O God, here I am answering your call).
Once in their fireproof tents, masses of faithful, clad in the white ihram garb, busy themselves reciting the Noble Qur’an and praying.
Many try to catch some sleep — after a tiring journey from Makkah that on average takes five hours – as they ready for the climax of their ultimate spiritual experience.
On Thursday morning, the pilgrims will descend the Mount `Arafat where Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) delivered his last sermon more than 14 centuries ago.
The pilgrims then will return to Mina after spending the night in Muzdalifah.
They will take part in the symbolic stoning of the devil at Jamrat Al-Aqaba and sacrifice animals to mark the four-day `Eid Al-Adha, which starts Friday.
Saudi authorities were deployed to secure an easy transfer of pilgrims during hajj rituals, taking all procedures to protect them from possible threats.
“More than 450,000 Hajj violators were returned after verifying they either lacked the proper permits or the ones they thought were legal turned out fake,” interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki was quoted by Al Arabiya as saying.
Al-Turki added that their forces returned 208,236 buses carrying illegal pilgrims.
Al-Turki said that 1.72 million pilgrims have already reached the kingdom, and they will be joined by some 200,000 people from within the country in Mecca.
Government facilities were moved out of Mina to free up space, the Saudi Gazette reported, while roads in the Jamarat area were expanded, the Arab News said.
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several rituals, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon them.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.