MAKKAH – As the clock ticks towards the start of the annual hajj rituals, more than 1.3 million Muslims from across the world have flocked to the holy city of Makkah, dreaming of fulfilling the life-time journey.
“We notice a huge improvement in the services and care,” Asi Wat Azizan, an official with the Thai delegation, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Thursday, September 8.
“We are not afraid of any accidents,” said Najwa Hassan, a Sudanese pilgrim.
According to General Director of Saudi passport office, at least 1,310,408 Hajj pilgrims have entered Saudi Arabia.
Among the pilgrims, 1,233,029 arrived in Saudi by air, 34,656 by road and 12,723 by sea.
Saudi media has stated that at least 0.3 million Saudi citizens will offer Hajj and reach Makkah from various cities, including Damam and Riyadh.
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Hajj is officially expected to fall between September 10 and 15, with the climax falling on September 11 when the faithful descend the Mount `Arafat.
This year’s hajj followed last year disastrous stampede at the Jamarat Bridge, in which hundreds of pilgrims died.
In order to provide maximum security for the pilgrims, public statements and Saudi press reports show that changes have been made to mark a safe hajj.
The Arab News daily reported that roads in the Jamarat area were expanded and some pilgrims’ accommodation relocated.
More space was freed up when government facilities were moved out of Mina, Saudi Gazette reported.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umra is also taking a high-tech approach to improving safety.
For the first time, pilgrims will receive electronic bracelets storing their personal information.
The timing of the Jamarat stoning has been restricted, and the hajj ministry says surveillance cameras and other electronic controls will monitor crowd flow, comparing it with computer projections.
Saudi Arabia “is already taking action” to ensure last year’s tragedy will never recur, said Indonesia’s top official overseeing the hajj, Abdul Jamil.
Oumou Khadiatou Diallo, a Malian pilgrim who survived the stampede but saw seven people die around her, said God has called her to return despite the trauma she suffered.
“I hope that the safety is going to be improved,” she said before leaving Bamako for Saudi Arabia, burdened by her memories.
“I think of all the dead from last year. What I saw often comes back to me, and that hurts.”