Discussion on R&R from all regions
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Post by shivaathervedi »

kmaherali wrote:
shivaathervedi wrote:What diversity or pluralism has to do with kids making blunders while reciting Du'a or Eid Namaz. My question was simple and your answer should have been justifying by replying me properly and not giving FATWA that I am an Ismaili or not?
You said in your post that there are differences in the Namaz across the world and I responded that our Tariqah is a diversity of cultures and historical traditions hence the differences. You yourself indicated in another thread that you were not a Shia! I am simply stating what you yourself said.

Blunders can happen even to adults. When I was a kid, I recited Namaz and my parents sent a message to the Imam. The Imam was very happy that I recited Namaz and sent a Talika to that effect. I have a copy of the Talika and can share the exact words if you want.
Congratulations, you got a Talika mubarak from Imam though you made mistakes as you wrote. 15 years back I got a chance to recite Eid Namaz in my country and I did not got any Talika, ' may be I did not made any mistakes'. Imam is Badshash, he keeps encouraging his murids on different occasions.
Traditions can be different in different cultures but not the basic tenets of Islam and Ismailism. Imam is one, Tariqa should be one for all his murids.
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Post by kmaherali »

shivaathervedi wrote: Congratulations, you got a Talika mubarak from Imam though you made mistakes as you wrote. 15 years back I got a chance to recite Eid Namaz in my country and I did not got any Talika, ' may be I did not made any mistakes'. Imam is Badshash, he keeps encouraging his murids on different occasions.
Traditions can be different in different cultures but not the basic tenets of Islam and Ismailism. Imam is one, Tariqa should be one for all his murids.
Thanks! I was 10-11 years old then and I did not make any mistakes. I was simply trying to say that the Imam was encouraging young children to recite Namaz.

The traditions can vary. Dua is standard and uniform across the world. All other rites and ceremonies are context bound all predicated by the obedience to the Imam.
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Post by Admin »

The Imam says do not seek perfection from leaders but here some are seeking perfection from children
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Post by kmaherali »

The Push and Pull of Gender for Muslims at the Hajj


"There it was again. I was at once frustrated by Islam’s nitpicky strictures on women’s dress and embraced by its warm sisterhood. Over and over again during this physical and personal journey, I was confronted by my conflicting feelings on how the faith I was raised in deals with gender, the very thing that had made me take off my hijab in college.

At its founding, 1,400 years ago, Islam was revolutionary for its time in seeing women as spiritual equals. But in its contemporary conception, the day-to-day gender roles trouble me."

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/16/world ... d=71987722

Throwing Stones and Slaughtering Sheep at the Hajj

There are answers by the journalist to various questions asked by readers of the NYtimes about what happens at Hajj.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/11/world ... pe=article
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Post by kmaherali »

A Pilgrim’s Progress: Checking Mecca Off My Bucket List

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — When I first arrived in Mecca to begin my pilgrimage, it was the small things that delighted me, like the birds that flocked around the Grand Mosque, the pilgrims eating ice cream, and the wheelchair pushers, particularly the young men who liked to race down hills in the evening.

I was surprised to find out that I enjoyed praying. Pilgrims surprised me with their warmth — like Mervat, the veiled Yemeni cardiologist who put her face veil on the floor for me to pray on. I met men and women who were eager to tell me their hopes and dreams.

I had to figure out my relationships with the Saudi officials who were hosting my trip. They were kind and generous, and kept us moving, fed and sheltered — no easy feat in the annual hajj, a five-day series of rituals that brings a flood of 2 million Muslims to the kingdom, and in 2015 resulted in a crush that killed 2,300 people.

But they also kept dodging questions about the crush. They dodged questions about why pilgrims from Iran — their rival country — could not come this year, even though it was their religious right. And they insisted on my having a minder. Luckily, he was an excellent guide and a good sport. Plus, as a guest of the Ministry of Information and Culture, I had perks: nicer accommodations, decent food and three helicopter rides over the holy sites!

The whole endeavor was something of a journalistic experiment, as well as a personal journey. My editors and I decided to cover the pilgrimage not so much as a news event but as a first-person diary of observations and reflections. We produced a series of daily postcards, driven by videos and snapshots I made on my iPhone and Canon Mark III camera.

Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how daily news, features and opinion pieces come to life at The New York Times. Visit us at Times Insider and follow us on Twitter. Questions or feedback? Email us.

Our aim was to bring readers along with us to Islam’s holiest sites, and at the same time to debunk stereotypes about Muslims. We wanted to show their diversity and humanity, and to capture both the solemn spiritual moments and the quirky oddities of this centuries-old event.

For me — an Australian of Lebanese-Egyptian heritage who grew up in a religiously observant family but lives as an adult a secular lifestyle guided by Islamic values — it was a journey I had dreamed of making for a long time. I wondered throughout how it might change me.

I had to learn patience: We were always delayed, which meant I missed stories I wanted to do and lost precious daylight hours for taking photographs. I rarely slept more than four hours a night over a week, or ate more than once a day. That, mixed with the heat, my long hours outside and the ever-failing WiFi, brought out my short temper.

But the rituals brought out other things as well. Stoning the pillars of Jamarat that symbolize the devil had a power I never imagined. Praying on Mount Arafat, where Muslims believe their supplications are answered, sent me to tears. The Grand Mosque surrounding the Kaaba, the iconic black cube, felt like a comfortable cloak.

I bunked with smart, fun women in our 500-member V.I.P. delegation, including 100 journalists. On my last day of stoning the three pillars, I was with Raghdah, a liberal, smart Saudi woman charged with caring for our quarters. We clutched hands to duck and weave through the crowd and hurled our stones. When we finished, she turned to me brightly. “Let’s take a selfie with the devil!” she said, referring to the pillar behind us. I burst out laughing — this was a moment I had never imagined.


“Let’s take a selfie with the devil!” Raghdah said, referring to a pillar outside the photo’s purview. Credit Diaa Hadid/The New York Times

As we walked through crowds, we saw a group of Indonesian pilgrims, chanting in praise, hoping God would accept their hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam required of every adherent at least once in her lifetime. After the Indonesians finished singing, they began crying and hugging. They hugged and kissed me and Raghdah as well.

And then came my last rite, to circle the Kaaba seven times in farewell.

I walked barefoot across the cool marble to the looming Kaaba, also called the House of God. The heavy black cloth draped over that enormous cube was so close that I could read part of the golden calligraphy etched around it: “God is Great.”

I raised my head, seeing the birds above me — from there, it did look as if they circled the Kaaba in a kind of ritual of their own.

When I was preparing for the hajj, the holy Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, my brother warned me of a peril in the skies: the birds.

A withered, elderly Pakistani man with watery blue eyes and a snow-cone turban leaned on another pilgrim’s shoulder for support, so he would not be pulled into the crowd. He chanted prayers in a high, sweet voice. I walked beside them until we were separated in the crowd. Somebody’s mobile phone pealed. Some read prayer books as they walked. One elderly man fainted, and the crowd cleared as he was carried away.

My brother, who made the hajj in 2012, was right: It felt as if I was being carried on a sea of humanity. I leaned on others, and a young woman leaned on me, holding my back as she walked through a tight crowd. I took her hand and kissed it, a sign of affection and humility, before she melted into the crowd again. I began sidestepping women wearing long robes that trailed on the ground; if I stepped on a hem, someone could trip and set off a human pileup.

An elderly woman put her hand on my shoulder. Worried she was about to fall, I put my hand on hers to steady her. She kissed my hand in thanks and then disappeared.

So did my iPhone, which must have slipped from my hand. Whoever picked it up will see on the camera app a man who held his toddler as he walked. She had large black eyes, and the pilgrims who passed her reached out to touch her hand and pinch her cheek.

They will see an African lady who balanced a bottle of water on her head. They will see close-ups of hands clutching each other, and thousands of feet, walking. They will see me raising my phone high, showing the crowd behind me, and a man waving into the camera. They will see me saying into the phone that I hope to return on hajj with my mother and sisters. Maybe they will even catch the pedantic Egyptian who ordered me to roll down my sleeves.

The sea was mostly silent save for the murmur of prayer.

I wanted to see the Kaaba up close because I thought that if I could lean close to that structure maybe I would feel the passion of faith some more. But I felt numb, even as I repeated words of praise and thanks. How can I ask of God, when I feel that I have been given so much?

I thought a lot about what might happen when I return to Jerusalem, where I live and work as a correspondent for The Times.

I felt a spirit of goodness right in my bones when I prayed and when people were kind to each other, like the pilgrims who carried away the elderly man who fainted by the Kaaba. I want more of that in my life.

Still, as I watched people cry when they saw the Kaaba, I had no tears. Instead, I thought, boy, it’s empty on the inside. This is just a symbol. This is God’s house, but the creator doesn’t live here. I realized that, for me, the real story was outside the Kaaba, among people.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/insid ... -list.html?
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Post by kmaherali »

Abused during Hajj – Pilgrims recall Saudi Arabia’s ultimate betrayal against Islam

One of the five sacred pillars of Islam, Hajj pilgrimage is required of all able Muslim – men and women, at least once in their lifetime. Holy among the holies, Hajj embodies the very spirit of Islam as it enables the faithful to reach the divine through physical acts of worship.

It is God whom pilgrims are yearning for as they turn their faces towards Mecca; it is remembrance of God’s Mercy and His Benevolence pilgrims hope to find as they walk in the footsteps of Islam’s last prophet.

Allah says: “The pilgrimage is (in) the well-known months, and whoever is minded to perform the pilgrimage therein, then let there be no lewdness nor abuse nor disputation during the pilgrimage. And whatsoever good you do Allah knows it. So make provision for yourselves (Hereafter); for the best provision is to ward off evil. Therefore keep your duty unto Me, O people of understanding.” [Surah al-Baqarah: 197]

A pilgrimage of the mind and heart, as well as the body, Hajj demands of each pilgrim utmost restraint, good moral, and piety. If Hajj is often taxing on the body, it is spiritual elevation, and enlightenment which in fact require together discipline and absolute devotion. Needless to say that Hajj is not for the faint-hearted. Hajj commands submission through perfected religion … only then, can pilgrims hope to be reborn in Islam and washed away from their sins.

The walk of a lifetime, the communion to surpass all communions Hajj is where, and when many will find not only Islam, but Eternity in faithful abandonment.

The Hajj pilgrimage is a concerted effort for the pilgrim to remain aloof from the desires of the worldly life and its material concerns. The pilgrimage trains and conditions the character to be more independent of material things and to find contentment in less.

Every year millions on Muslims converge towards the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform their pilgrimage, and complete their faith. Every year tens of thousands have seen their pride and their body shattered under the vengeful boot of al-Saud’s Wahhabi moral police in the name of a faith which has claimed ownership over Islam’s inner sanctum.

If Mecca still echoes of Abraham, if the Kaaba still remembers of the touch of God’s prophet, its skies remain blotted by the arrogance of a house which thought itself worthier of that which God’s elected to His Guardianship.

As it glimmers of a thousand golden lights, its floor paved with marbles and precious stones, Mecca has died a million deaths - its holy landscape redacted, and the faithful prevented from expressing their devotion in the manner which best fits their heart. It is violence today which most of all has tainted Hajj and turned Islam’s most sacred ritual into an exercise of submission to the dogmatism of Wahhabism.

Muslims of all school of thoughts and walks of life have raised their voice in resistance – keen to break fear so that Islam could be reclaimed for those who seek God, and not flitting glory.

“I have ben spat on, beaten and punched while performing Hajj. I was called an apostate and an infidel when I turned my face towards the Prophet Muhammad’s last resting place and called for his intercession. I was slapped in Medina as I read my book of duas [religious supplications] in al-Baqee cemetery where Islam’s saints are buried. My real crime? Doing Hajj while Shia” said Hassan al-Wazir, a pilgrim from Yemen in his testimony to the Baqee Organization.

Hanan Abbas, a British pilgrim recalled how her elderly mother was thrown to the ground by a Muttawa (Wahhabi religious police) when she shed tears at al-Baqee cemetery over the martyrdom of Fatema bint Muhammad, the daughter of the Prophet. “My mum was first told to move away … when she pleaded with police to be allowed to pay her respect to the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad she was pushed violently to the ground. They took her book of supplication and cursed her. As my brother intervened he was hit with a baton in the stomach … I was in shock! My mother spent the rest of her Hajj in tears. I have never been angrier in my life. Hajj is supposed to be a time of reflection and peace. We saw the face of hatred and bigotry.

Under the care of the Saudi regime the Hajj pilgrimage has been turned into a painful and humiliating experience. For millions of non-Wahhabis, every step taken has become an act of resistance against the intolerance of blind extremism.

“Long ago Muslims faced the wrath of Mecca’s idolatrous elite … today we face the poison of another. We have tasted humiliation and oppression for we have refused to abandon our beliefs and buckle down before the House of Saud. For millions like me performing the Hajj is an act of religious resistance against tyranny. We shall continue to bear our sorrow and call on our Lord to revenge our cries. Islam is for all believers, without judgement, without bias, without prejudices … Islam is not about dogma and vengeance. What a tragedy to see our Scriptures misinterpreted by an ignorant crowd,” noted Sheikh al-Hashemi, a scholar from Yemen.

A sign of the time, and in negation of Islam calls for tolerance, the Saudi regime has called since 2015 for pilgrims to be profiled according to their school of thoughts. Pakistani officials confirmed in 2015 that: "Saudi Arabia will not entertain any Hajj application from aspirants that fail to specify whether the applicant is a Shia or a Sunni."

It is violence and the fear of violent repression which more than anything else now rhymes with Hajj. Only this September the Saudi authorities arrested Iraqi Shia scholar “Sheikh Taha” in Mina, sentencing him to 3-month incarceration and 300 flagellations for an unknown reason.

Of all the many and grave transgressions Saudi Arabia committed against pilgrims one particularly troubling incident has stood out. Just as millions of pilgrims flocked to the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia senior cleric called for a grand religious cleanse against all those they view as apostates: all non-Wahhabis.

Of course the label non-Wahhabis extend to pretty much every faith, including Islam.

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/abus ... 4313270280
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Post by kmaherali »

The Contradictions of Hajj, Through the Lens of a Smartphone

Is it permissible to take a selfie in front of the Kaaba during hajj? With spotty internet, I was unable to Google the answer. Forced to call an audible fatwa, I decided, “Yes, if indeed my intention is pure.”

Fourteen hundred years ago, the Prophet Muhammad and his companions definitely didn’t have to decide between Clarendon and Gingham filters to document the hajj pilgrimage that is recreated by Muslims each year. But then again, they didn’t have Instagram as I did when I went to Mecca to satisfy the pillar of my faith during the last days of August and the beginning of September. They didn’t have access to the air-conditioned tents that I used for shelter. And when they gazed at the Kaaba — the austere black cube that represents God’s house on earth — it certainly wasn’t dwarfed, as it is now, by the enormous luxury hotel and bling-covered clock tower that the Saudi government added to the landscape in 2012.

Awe-struck by the privilege of participating in this tradition while often agitated by the contradictions that surround it today, I made sense of the experience by sharing it — filtering the pilgrimage through the lens of my smartphone.

The most painful aspect of hajj wasn’t the physical toll that came with navigating cramped space with my two million diverse fellow pilgrims, or the intense spiritual concentration. It wasn’t the hiking-induced blisters and chafing. It was witnessing the erasure and razing of my religion’s culture, history and narrative by the House of Saud.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/11/opin ... dline&te=1
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Post by kmaherali »

The Hajj Pilgrimage Is Canceled, and Grief Rocks the Muslim World

The coronavirus pandemic upended the plans of millions of Muslims, for whom the once-in-a-lifetime trip is a sacred milestone.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — For much of his life, Abdul-Halim al-Akoum stashed away cash in hopes of one day traveling from his Lebanese mountain village to perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims who can are obliged to make once in their lives.

He was all set to go this year until the coronavirus pandemic forced Saudi Arabia to effectively cancel the hajj for what some scholars say may be the first time in history.

“It is the dream of every Muslim believer to visit Mecca and do the hajj,” said Mr. al-Akoum, 61, a village official. “But the pandemic came with no warning and took away that dream.”

The Saudi announcement sent shock waves of sadness and disappointment across the Muslim world, upending the plans of millions of believers to make a trip that many look forward to their whole lives and which, for many, marks a profound spiritual awakening.

A 72-year-old retired port worker in Pakistan will stay home, despite his six children having pooled their money to finance his trip. A mother in Kenya will forgo visiting sites she has long dreamed of seeing. An Egyptian school administrator named Zeinab Ibrahim burst into tears.

“It was my only wish,” Ms. Ibrahim said. “To cancel it completely is such a shame. May God relieve us of this burden.”

Performing the pilgrimage at least once for those who are physically and financially able is one of the five pillars of Islam. Making the trip is such a sacred milestone for the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims that in parts of the Arab world families of returned pilgrims paint murals on their homes to alert their neighbors to the pilgrim in their midst.

Many people save up their entire lives to make the hajj and, before modern transportation, spent months getting there.

The pilgrimage conveys such religious status that many Muslims add the honorific “al-Hajj” or “Hajji” to their names on their business cards.

“The hajj is a transformative, emotional and spiritually moving experience — the spiritual pinnacle of a devout Muslim’s life,” said Yasir Qadhi, dean of the Islamic Seminary of America, who was supposed to lead a group of 250 pilgrims to Mecca this year.

Since the Saudi announcement, he added, “There’s a sense of deflation and spiritual loss, and a great sadness.”

The hajj is also big business. The hajj, a five- or six-day pilgrimage that starts this year at the end of July, and the umrah, a lesser pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of the year, earn Saudi Arabia billions of dollars each year, and Muslim communities from Texas to Tajikistan have travel agencies specializing in getting pilgrims to and from the holy sites and providing accommodation along the way.

“It is a catastrophe on all levels — economic, social and religious,” said Tariq Kalach, who runs a Beirut travel agency that was planning to take 400 pilgrims to Mecca this year.

Pilgrimage packages cost from $3,000 to $10,000, he said. He also provides services to a number of Islamic associations that pay for groups of poor Muslims to make the trip each year.

He said the cancellation was devastating, but that it was the right thing to do.

“It is a very dangerous virus and it will spread like a brush fire,” he said. “May the almighty make things easy for the Muslims.”

The Saudi government, for which the hajj is a major source of prestige and tourism, announced Monday that no pilgrims from outside the kingdom could perform the hajj this year in order to prevent contagion.

On Tuesday, Saudi officials narrowed the order, saying that only about 1,000 pilgrims would be permitted this year — a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million who came last year.

The pilgrimage has been interrupted or curtailed many times because of wars and disease, but has faced no significant limits on attendance since the mid-1800s, when outbreaks of cholera and plague kept pilgrims away for a number of years.

Saudi Arabia, whose king bears the title “the custodian of the two holy mosques,” a reference to holy sites in Mecca and Medina, has never canceled the hajj since the modern kingdom was founded in 1932.

“This is the first time in the global phenomenon of the hajj that it has been canceled in such a manner,” said Dr. Qadhi, the scholar. “The dynamics have changed. Five hundred years ago you couldn’t ban it. There were no passports, no visas.”

The Mongol invasion of the Levant in the 13th century, for example, prevented pilgrims from reaching Mecca, he said, “but even then, the locals did it.”

Few criticized the decision to limit the event since Saudi Arabia is suffering from one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the Middle East, with 161,000 declared infections and more than 1,300 deaths. Epidemiologists have warned that mass gatherings — from concerts to sporting matches — can become so-called super-spreader events.

Khalid Almaeena, a Saudi political and media analyst who has attended the hajj many times, said that much of the pilgrimage’s importance comes from the way it mixes Muslims from different countries, races and social classes who might not otherwise cross paths.

“This is the religious, social, cultural aspect of the hajj,” he said. “It is not just the ritual, but the meeting places, the many great friendships and bonds that are established and built there year after year.”

In Egypt, the economic hardship of recent years has turned the hajj into an elusive dream for many, which only sharpened the blow of the cancellation.

Ms. Ibrahim, the school administrator, applied four years in a row to a government lottery that offers free trips to the hajj, failing every time. But this year, she scraped together the cost from her own funds. “I wanted to go while my health is still good,” said Ms. Ibrahim, 58, who earns about $175 a month. “I didn’t care about the cost.”

In many countries, even those who can muster the expense often wait years to be included in their country’s quota of pilgrims, which are set by Saudi Arabia with the aim of equalizing the opportunity across the Muslim world.

Imam Mokhi Turk, 45, said that 15 people from his embattled farming village in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, had been waiting for their turn to do the hajj and that some of his neighbors had sold land to pay for it.

Mr. Turk and four of his relatives registered for the pilgrimage four years ago, but only he made the list this year.

“This makes me very sad, because every Muslim hopes to go to hajj once in his whole life, and when it was my turn, it was canceled,” Mr. Turk said. “I’m very upset because I’m not sure if I’ll be alive in the next few days, let alone next year.”

Since the first hajj in 632, Muslims have traveled to Mecca in the face of hardship, adversity and disasters, gradually transforming the pilgrimage from an elite pursuit limited to small numbers of people into one of the world’s largest Muslim gatherings.

For centuries, it was a feat just to make it to Mecca in one piece.

Under the Ottoman Empire, camel-riding pilgrims crossed the vast deserts of Arabia in giant caravans that set out from Cairo or Damascus in a journey often taking six weeks and vulnerable to attacks by Bedouin bandits.

Others came by sea, braving storms, disease outbreaks in crowded ships, and other threats. In 1502, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, battling for control of trade routes, captured a ship filled with pilgrims as it returned from Mecca, set it on fire and killed several hundred people. In the 19th century, periodic cholera epidemics killed thousands of pilgrims.

The Suez Canal shortened the sea voyage for many after it opened in 1869, and the advent of motor vehicles eased the land voyage starting in the 1920s. Even then, numbers remained low: The hajj of 1929 registered 66,000 pilgrims.

The numbers started soaring in the 1970s, as mass air travel became more affordable, and Saudi rulers recognized that the pilgrimage brought not just religious prestige but also income. The hajj currently earns the kingdom billions of dollars a year.

Since the 1990s, the pilgrimage has been marred by stampedes, giant tent fires and worries about outbreaks of diseases such as SARS or, more recently, MERS. The deadliest stampede occurred in 2015 when more than 2,200 people died.

Despite the periodic tragedies, the Saudi authorities never canceled it.

The cancellation weighs particularly heavily on older Muslims who have been waiting for years to go in hopes that they can fulfill their religious obligation before death.

“I have been dreaming about it for 20 years and I hoped to do it before I got this old,” said Firiyan al-Masri, 68, a woman from Beirut.

Finally this year, she got her name on the list of a Lebanese Islamic association that finances trips for those in need, only to see her chances dashed by the pandemic.

“If God wills it, I will do the pilgrimage next year,” she said. “If I am still alive.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/23/worl ... 778d3e6de3
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Post by swamidada_2 »


Saudi’s Hajj cancellation for Covid-19 is not the first time a plague has disrupted Muslims’ pilgrimage
June 25, 2020

By Ken Chitwood
Lecturer, Concordia College New York | Journalist-fellow, USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Concordia College New York

Saudi Arabia has effectively canceled the hajj for most of the world’s Muslims, saying the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca will be “very limited” this year due to the coronavirus. Only pilgrims residing in Saudi Arabia may attend the event, which begins in late July.

Earlier this year, Saudi authorities had indicated that this decision might be coming and had also halted travel to holy sites as part of the umrah, the “lesser pilgrimage” that takes place throughout the year.

A dramatically scaled down hajj will be a massive economic hit for the country and many businesses globally, such as the hajj travel industry. Millions of Muslims visit the Saudi kingdom each year, and the pilgrimage has not been canceled since the founding of the Saudi Kingdom in 1932.

But as a scholar of global Islam, I have encountered many instances in the more than 1,400-year history of the pilgrimage when its planning had to be altered due to armed conflicts, disease or just plain politics. Here are just a few.

Armed conflicts
One of the earliest significant interruptions of the hajj took place in A.D. 930, when a sect of Ismailis, a minority Shiite community, known as the Qarmatians raided Mecca because they believed the hajj to be a pagan ritual.

The Qarmatians were said to have killed scores of pilgrims and absconded with the black stone of the Kaaba – which Muslims believed was sent down from heaven. They took the stone to their stronghold in modern-day Bahrain.

( Note: After defeating Qarmatians, the Fatimid Caliphs returned the Black Stone to Mecca and placed it in its original place in Ka'ba)

Political disputes
Political disagreements and conflict have often meant that pilgrims from certain places were kept from performing hajj because of lack of protection along overland routes into the Hijaz, the region in the west of Saudi Arabia where both Mecca and Medina are located.

In A.D. 983, the rulers of Baghdad and Egypt were at war. The Fatimid rulers of Egypt claimed to be the true leaders of Islam and opposed the rule of the Abbasid dynasty in Iraq and Syria.

Their political tug-of-war kept various pilgrims from Mecca and Medina for eight years, until A.D. 991.

Then, during the fall of the Fatimids in A.D. 1168, Egyptians could not enter the Hijaz. It is also said that no one from Baghdad performed hajj for years after the city fell to Mongol invasion in A.D. 1258.

Many years later, Napoleon’s military incursions aimed at checking British colonial influence in the region prevented many pilgrims from hajj between A.D. 1798 and 1801.

Diseases and hajj
Much like the present, diseases and other natural calamities have also come in the way of the pilgrimage.

There are reports that the first time an epidemic of any kind caused hajj to be canceled was an outbreak of plague in A.D. 967. And drought and famine caused the Fatimid ruler to cancel overland hajj routes in A.D. 1048.

Cholera outbreaks in multiple years throughout the 19th century claimed thousands of pilgrims’ lives during the hajj. One cholera outbreak in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in 1858 forced thousands of Egyptians to flee to Egypt’s Red Sea border, where they were quarantined before being allowed back in.

Indeed, for much of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, cholera remained a “perennial threat” and caused frequent disruption to the annual hajj.

An outbreak of cholera in India in 1831 claimed thousands of pilgrims’ lives on their way to perform hajj.

In fact, with many outbreaks in quick succession, the hajj was frequently interrupted throughout the mid-19th century.

Recent years
In more recent years, too, the pilgrimage has been disrupted for many similar reasons.

In 2012 and 2013 Saudi authorities encouraged the ill and the elderly not to undertake the pilgrimage amid concerns over Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS.

Contemporary geopolitics and human rights issues have also played a role in who was able to perform the pilgrimage.

In 2017, the 1.8 million Muslim citizens of Qatar were not able to perform the hajj following the decision by Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations to sever diplomatic ties with the country over differences of opinion on various geopolitical issues.

The same year, some Shiite governments such as Iran leveled charges alleging that Shiites were not allowed to perform the pilgrimage by Sunni Saudi authorities.

In other cases, faithful Muslims have called for boycotts, citing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

While the decision to cancel the hajj will surely disappoint Muslims looking to perform the pilgrimage, many among them have been sharing online a relevant hadith—a tradition reporting the sayings and practice of the prophet Muhammad—that provides guidance about traveling during a time of an epidemic: “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.”

This story has been updated to reflect the latest developments.

Ken Chitwood, Lecturer, Concordia College New York | Journalist-fellow, USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Concordia College New York

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Post by swamidada_2 »

Hajj 2020: coronavirus pandemic frustrates Saudi vision for expanded religious tourism
Seán McLoughlin, Professor of the Anthropology of Islam, University of Leeds
The ConversationJune 26, 2020, 9:34 AM CDT

Saudi Arabia has finally clarified that due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic only very limited numbers of local pilgrims will be allowed to perform Hajj in 2020. During the past decade, the kingdom has typically welcomed between 1.9 to 3.2 million pilgrims per year from across the Muslim world, generating more than US$8 billion in annual revenue for the Saudi economy.

No Hajjis from outside Saudi Arabia will be permitted to travel to Mecca in 2020 due to the high risk of infection. Managing crowds is normally a challenge during the pilgrimage. So, over the five days prescribed in the Islamic lunar calendar – which fall between July 28 and August 2 in 2020 – at most 10,000 Saudis and nationals from other countries resident in Saudi Arabia will perform the rituals. They must follow physical and social distancing protocols.

While the Hajj has been restricted and suspended in the past because of conflict or disease, 2020 is the first time Saudi Arabia – established in 1932 – has so significantly curtailed the pilgrimage.

Meanwhile, given huge drops in the current demand for oil due to the economic crisis provoked by COVID-19, the longer-term impact of the virus could deal a real blow to Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to diversify its economy by expanding pilgrimage-based tourism. It also highlights concerns about governance and regulation of the pilgrimage industry beyond the kingdom, raised in my own research mapping the challenges of the Hajj sector in the UK.

A changing political economy
When the Saudis first took control of the Hijaz area of western Arabia – where Mecca is situated – in the 1920s, Hajj was the most significant source of revenue for the region. This financial dependence on Hajj ended in the years following the discovery of oil in the late 1930s.

As oil prices quintupled during the 1970s and international air travel became the norm, the Saudi rentier state increasingly deployed Hajj as part of its diplomacy beyond the Arab world. The House of Saud also demonstrated its largesse to the “guests of God” by expanding pilgrimage infrastructure as the number of overseas Hajjis expanded from 100,000 per year in the mid-1950s to nearly 1 million, 20 years later.

Into the 1990s, however, global recession began to focus Saudi attention on the benefits of systematically commercialising pilgrimage despite the challenges of rapid modernisation for safety, heritage and the environment.

Read more: Hajj: how globalisation transformed the market for pilgrimage to Mecca

A bid for pilgrim-tourists
The Saudi government has sought to offer pilgrims improved transport, accommodation, retail and other pilgrimage-related services by partnering with international private investors. During the past decade US$8.5 billion has been invested in the new King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and the Haramain high-speed railway, which connects Mecca and Medina to the new airport.

Even so, Vision 2030, launched in 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, represents a revolution in Saudi Arabia’s plans to open up the kingdom. Extremely ambitious targets were set to more than double current Hajj numbers to around 6 million a year – and Umrah to 30 million annually – by 2030.

In 2019, Umrah numbers reached 20 million with Saudi Arabia launching a new tourist e-visa the same year. Notably, single Muslim women can use this visa to complete the pilgrimage without the usual mahram (male relative). Umrah takes just half a day and it can easily be included in itineraries including the Red Sea coast and the ruins at Al-‘Ula.

Vision 2030 is especially focused on the global Muslim middle-classes with disposable incomes. As my own research showed, costs across the pilgrimage industry have been driven up by marketisation. Between 2013-18 the price of all packages had risen by around 25%. In 2018 even an “economy” Hajj package from the UK cost more than £4,000 (US$5,000).

Hajj tourism regulation
Speaking on a Council of British Hajjis webinar in late June, an imam reminded disappointed pilgrims that Muslims are rewarded even for the religious intention of making Hajj.

But given the unprecedented late cancellation of millions of Hajj packages in 2020, business relations between suppliers and customers along transnational pilgrimage chains will undoubtedly be fraught for months – and possibly years.

Muslims worldwide are now wondering whether the 2021 pilgrimage will go ahead as before if they defer their package by a year. There is also a question about what quota each country will receive, if global demand doubles. And in many cases, travel insurance will not now cover COVID-19-related issues.

Even in Europe, where travellers are due refunds under EU law, cashflow problems mean that some Hajj travel agents are seeking to defer refunds until 2021. In the UK, some agencies have not issued the necessary certificates to pilgrims – which offer protection should providers go out of business – or have fraudulently advertised that they are covered.

The fallout of COVID-19 will magnify challenges that the Muslim pilgrimage industry was already confronting. The lack of professionalism and compliance among some Saudi-licensed Hajj organisers is exacerbated by inconsistent approaches to regulation and enforcement. What’s needed is more effective self-governance by the pilgrimage industry, as well as more transparent and better co-ordinated communication between pilgrims, travel companies as well as the Saudi and other authorities.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Post by kmaherali »

Sadruddin Noorani: ChandRaat – 1st of Dhu al-Hajj 1441 – July 21, 2020

By: Sadruddin Noorani, Chicago, USA

Dhu al-Hajj is the twelfth and final month in the Islamic calendar. It literally means “The Month of the Pilgrimage”. During this month, Muslim pilgrims from all around the world congregate at Mecca to visit the Kaaba. The Hajj is performed on the eighth, ninth and the tenth of this month. Day of Arafah takes place on the ninth of the month. Eid al-Adha, the “Feast of the Sacrifice”, begins on the tenth day and ends on sunset of the 13th day.


The Hajj Pilgrimage has been canceled this year for Muslims residing outside Saudi Arabia, announced by the Authorities of the Saudi Kingdom due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is not the first time in the global phenomenon of the Hajj that it has been limited to local residents but in small numbers (Fewer than 10,000 people are to perform the 2020 Hajj) due to public health precautions. The Hajj has been interrupted or canceled approximately 40 times since 700 AD due to plagues, conflicts, political unrest and battles. Covid-19 pandemic has upended the plans of millions of Muslims, for whom the once-in-a lifetime trip is a sacred milestone. The pilgrimage conveys such religious status that most Muslims add the honorific “Hajji (for male)” and “Hajiani (for female)” to their name as their title.

Dhu al-Hajj is a very sacred month in the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, is celebrated throughout the Muslim world in this month. The Eid commemorates Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) (peace be upon him)’s trial of faith. In Qur’an al-Karim it is said that Prophet Ibrahim saw a vision in which he was sacrificing his son Ismail (Ishmael). He shared this vision with his son who expressed his willingness to be sacrificed, believing it to be a command from Allah (God)(All Glory Belongs to Him). As the two, father and son, prepared themselves to submit to the Divine Will, God called out to Prophet Ibrahim saying that he has fulfilled the vision. Like other prophetic parables in the Qur’an Prophet Ibrahim’s story inspires us to draw particular lessons from his life.

Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son exemplifies an unconditional commitment to submit to the Will of God. It is for this reason that in the Qur’an, Prophet Ibrahim is referred to as a Muslim, that is, one who submits to God. He is also called a Hanif, which came to mean one who is righteous, and is presented as a religious and moral model for later generations. Allah mentions in the Holy Qur’an in chapter 2 of al-Baqarah, verse 124th:

“And remember that Ibrahim was tried by his Lord with commands and he fulfilled: [Allah] said: “I will make thee an Imam to the Nations.” He pleaded: “And also (Imams) from my offspring!” He answered: “But My promise is not within the reach of wrong-doers.”

Thus, as we will be celebrating Eid al-Adha, not only as an example of sacrifice but also as a reminder of the continuum of guidance from God through our present Imam Shah Karim al-Hussaini (aka: Aga Khan IV), who is from the progeny of Prophet Ibrahim.

We have recently celebrated Imamat Day on 11th July, Aga Khan’s 63rd anniversary of the accession, even with most JamatKhanas around the world still closed due to Covid-19… The Ismaili TV and The Ismaili App has come at the right time and we are seeing the creativity of the Jamat.


Now, on tenth day, we will be celebrating Eid al-Adha which provides us with an opportunity to reflect on and further the goals of the Aga Khan, he articulated at the Dinner hosted by the Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada, 14, May 1987:

“I have sought to underwrite our endeavors in social development with initiatives designed to promote economic progress. The two are inextricably linked and must remain so if people are not to be faced with the unacceptable choice between the poverty of the economics of welfare, on the one hand, and raw material greed untempered by any social conscience, on the other.” (www.theismaili.org)

During this festive month of sacrifice, it would be appropriate for each one of us to ask: what is my personal responsibility, as a global citizen of what Aga Khan calls a “large global family”? As the occasion epitomizes the ideals of submission and sacrifice, how do I participate in the Imamat’s endeavors to relieve poverty and suffering, bringing happiness and prosperity to family, friends and neighbors? (AKDN.org)

For example, over 2 million students benefit from AKDN’s education programmes annually, which range from early childhood development to primary and secondary schools, and from vocational studies to university degrees. We as a community can contribute our skills, resources and time and knowledge to support these educational endeavors and other aspects linked with quality of life. Volunteering time and offering material resources have been part of our Islamic ethos, which have significantly benefited the communities in which we live and the world at large.

On 18th of Dhu al-Hajj (August 7) we will also be celebrating Eid Al-Ghadir, an important holiday, it is considered to be among the “significant” feasts of Shia Islam. At the time when the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) appointed Ali ibn Abi Talib (A.S) as his successor.

Imam Jafar Sadiq (A.S) says that: “Six things benefit a man after his death; a pious son who asks for forgiveness on his behalf, a copy of the Holy Qur’an he read from, a tree he planted, a glass of water he quenched others’ thirst with, a well he dug, and a good tradition or habit he left behind to those around him.”

Eid al-Adha is an important festival reminding us of values, such as strength of belief (iman), absolute submission of trust, that is, tawakkul in God; and sacrifice (qurbani), which we need to put into action. Our offering of time, knowledge, and material resources is but one form of sacrifice that, on the one hand, expresses our gratitude to God and, on the other, allows us to offer our qurbani in the service of the community and society at large, which is rooted in Muslim ethics.

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Post by kmaherali »

Pilgrims arrive in Mecca for downsized hajj amid pandemic

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Muslim pilgrims have started arriving in Mecca for a drastically scaled-down hajj, as Saudi authorities balance the kingdom’s oversight of one of Islam’s key pillars and the safety of visitors in the face of a global pandemic.

The hajj, which begins on Wednesday, normally draws around 2.5 million people for five intense days of worship in one of the world’s largest gatherings of people from around the world.

This year, Saudi Arabia’s Hajj Ministry has said between 1,000 and 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will be allowed to perform the pilgrimage. Two-thirds of those pilgrims will be from among foreign residents in Saudi Arabia and one-third will be Saudi citizens.

The kingdom has one of the Mideast’s largest outbreaks of the coronavirus, with nearly 269,000 reported infections, including 2,760 deaths.

Fatin Daud, a 25-year-old Malaysian who is studying Arabic in Saudi Arabia, was among the select few whose application for hajj was approved. After her selection, Saudi Health Ministry officials came to her home and tested her for the COVID-19 virus. She was then given an electronic bracelet that monitors her movements, and told to quarantine for several days at home.

After that, Daud was moved to a hotel in Mecca, where she remains in self-isolation, still wearing the electronic wristband. A large box of food is delivered to her hotel room three times a day as she prepares to begin the hajj.

“It was unbelievable. It felt surreal because I was not expecting to get it,” she said of her excitement when she found out she was selected. Daud said she’s praying for the end of COVID-19 and for unity among Muslims around the world.

“I am confident that safety measures are being taken and that the only thing that we need to do as pilgrims is follow instructions, and try our best to support each other,” she said.

While self-isolating has been emotionally challenging, Daud said she is part of a group of about 10 Malaysian and Singaporean pilgrims connecting online and sharing tips and religious exercises to keep busy.

The Saudi government is covering the expenses of all pilgrims this year, providing them with meals, hotel accommodation, transportation and health care. Normally, the hajj can cost thousands of dollars for pilgrims who save for a lifetime for the journey. It also generates billions of dollars in revenue each year for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi kings have for generations assumed titles as custodians of Islam’s holiest sites, and their oversight of the hajj is a source of prestige and influence among Muslims globally. Saudi Arabia has never canceled the hajj in the nearly 90 years since the country was founded.

King Salman, who typically oversees the hajj from Mecca, underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder at a hospital in the capital, Riyadh, the royal court said last week. The 84-year-old monarch was to remain at the hospital to recover and be observed by doctors.

For the first time in Saudi history, no pilgrims from abroad were permitted to take part in the hajj due to concerns about the coronavirus and overcrowding. It’s a stark departure from previous years, when some 2 million pilgrims from more than 160 countries flocked to Mecca for the spiritual rituals, mostly from across Asia and Africa.

Although the hajj often draws all age groups, pilgrims this year were required to be between the ages of 20 and 50, and in good health.

The physically demanding rituals of the hajj offer a profound experience for Muslims, with the faithful often weeping, their palms stretched toward the sky, in prayer and repentance. The hajj is required of all able-bodied Muslims once in a lifetime.

This year, international media were not given permission to cover the hajj from Mecca.

Also this year, pilgrims must wear face masks and will only be able to drink holy water from the Zamzam well in Mecca that has been prepackaged in plastic bottles. Pebbles for casting away evil that are usually picked up by pilgrims along hajj routes will be sterilized and bagged before being distributed to the pilgrims.

Pilgrims are also bringing their own prayer rugs and will be required to pray at a distance from one another, rather than packed shoulder-to-shoulder.

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Post by swamidada_2 »

Technology infuses ancient Haj rites amid global pandemic

The vast white marble floors surrounding Islam's holiest site, the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, would normally be packed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world the day before the Haj.

On Tuesday, however, only a few officials and workers putting last minute preparations in place were seen at the Grand Mosque housing the Kaaba.

In place of the 2.5 million pilgrims who preformed the Haj last year, only a very limited number of faithful anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 are being allowed to take part in what is largely a symbolic pilgrimage amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The select few approved for this year's Haj have been tested for the virus and are self-isolating in hotel rooms in Makkah, where they will experience an ancient pilgrimage, albeit tailored this year for a modern-day global pandemic.

Amr Al-Maddah, the chief planning officer at the Ministry of Haj, is helping incorporate the latest technology into the pilgrimage such as thermal scanners and electronic ID cards.

"Right now, technology is our black horse to developing the whole Haj journey," said Al-Maddah, an electronics engineer with a PhD in robotics and artificial intelligence.

"We are taking every step possible to make sure that this Haj will end with zero cases of Covid-19 and also with zero deaths in our total Haj numbers," he told The Associated Press.

Before pilgrims could even enter Makkah, they were given wristbands by the Saudi health ministry to monitor their movements and ensure the mandatory quarantine was observed. Thermal scanners are being used across the holy site to monitor people's temperatures.

Each pilgrim is assigned to a group of around 20 others. A group leader will guide them throughout the Haj to each destination at a specified time, to avoid crowding in places like the Grand Mosque, where the pilgrims circle the Kaaba and follow a path traveled by the Prophet Abraham's wife, who Muslims believe ran between two hills searching for water for her dying son.

While on Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) delivered his final sermon nearly 1,400 years ago and where pilgrims will spend Thursday in deep prayer and repentance, pilgrims will be wearing high-tech ID cards that connect to an application on their phones.

The card and app allows the government to easily monitor the pilgrims, and gives them a way to reach out to their group leader and make special meal requests.

The card stores the pilgrims' personal information, health status, residence and other Haj-related details. In the future, Al-Maddah said the cards will be fitted with a location tracker to follow individual pilgrims' movements. The tracker will be managed by a control room, and can be used as a pay card in place of cash.

Pilgrims have also been given special attire to wear during the Haj laced with silver nano technology that helps kill bacteria and makes clothes water-resistant.

Al-Maddah said the measure is a precaution, even if it can affect almost nothing or has a minimal chance of improving health conditions.

It's all part of the special treatment pilgrims are receiving this year. Other perks such as meals, hotel accommodation, transportation and healthcare is paid for by the Saudi government. Typically, the Haj can cost thousands of dollars for pilgrims who save for a lifetime for the journey.

This year marks the first time in nearly a century of Saudi rule over Makkah that people from outside the kingdom will not take part in the five-day Haj, which is a once in a lifetime requirement of Muslims.

Al-Maddah, who sits on the Haj planning committee, said allowing people to enter Saudi Arabia from abroad would have posed a global health risk.

Two thirds of pilgrims this year are foreigners already residing in Saudi Arabia from among the 160 different nationalities that would have normally been represented at the Haj. The other one third are Saudi security personnel and medical staff.

All pilgrims had to be between the ages of 20 and 50 with no terminal illnesses and showing no symptoms of the coronavirus.

Each year, the Haj poses a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities. As recently as 2015, a stampede killed more than 2,400 people.

Crowd control measures require the use of thousands of cameras and security officers to coordinate the movements of the more than 2.5 million people densely packed into narrow streets, walkways and paths.

Facial recognition technology and other high-tech security systems have to be advanced enough to decipher between pilgrims, dressed in nearly identical terry white cloth garments.

"For us, safety comes first," Al-Maddah said. "We are employing technology to make sure that these services and these precautions are met and delivered in the highest standard."

https://www.dawn.com/news/1571622/techn ... l-pandemic
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Post by kmaherali »

In pictures: Foreign Muslims return to Mecca for Umrah pilgrimage

Foreign Muslim pilgrims have been allowed into the Grand Mosque in Mecca for the first time since coronavirus restrictions were imposed seven months ago.

From Sunday, some 10,000 pilgrims from abroad were allowed to perform the Umrah pilgrimage, which Muslims can traditionally take at any time.

They had to self-isolate for three days after arriving in Saudi Arabia before being allowed to circle around the Kaaba - the holiest site in Islam - in the centre of the Grand Mosque.


Saudi Arabia has reported 347,282 cases of Covid-19 and 5,402 deaths since the pandemic started, and 333,842 recoveries. It is phasing the reopening of its mosques as part of a gradual easing of restrictions across the kingdom.


Saudi residents were allowed to perform the Umrah in October, and numbers were raised to accommodate pilgrims from abroad this month.


Only 10,000 Saudi Muslim residents were allowed to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage in July this year, vastly down from the millions who have taken part in previous years, like the one pictured below in 2016.

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The Hajj is back and Saudi Arabia is hoping to cash in

Post by kmaherali »

Muslim worshippers pray around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on July 5.

Abu Dhabi, UAE (CNN)Oil has added trillions of dollars to Saudi Arabia's coffers over the decades, but it's a resource that will someday run out or lose value as the world turns to alternative energy.

Despite current high oil prices, the kingdom knows this, and it has embarked on an ambitious project to diversify its sources of revenue for a post-oil future. One of those sources is the pilgrimage, an eternal monopoly that has a potential market of almost two billion Muslims.

Soon after King Salman bin Abdulaziz took power in 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a $21 billion project to expand the Grand Mosque in Mecca to accommodate 300,000 additional worshippers. A year later, then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman identified the pilgrimage as a key component of a plan to diversify the Saudi economy by 2030.

"Unlike [the energy sector], where Saudi Arabia always has to worry about future competitors, in the area of Hajj and Umrah, they are guaranteed to have zero competition in perpetuity," said Omar Al-Ubaydli, director of research at the Bahrain-based Derasat think tank.

Muslims from the world over return to Saudi Arabia this week to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage after a two-year hiatus caused by Covid-19 restrictions. It's an opportunity for Muslims to fulfill a once-in-a-lifetime religious obligation, but also a chance for the economy of Saudi Arabia's holy cities to get a jump start.

The pandemic caused the number of Hajj pilgrims to dwindle to 1,000 in 2020, but it rose to about 60,000 in 2021, when the Hajj was opened only to residents of Saudi Arabia. This year, the kingdom authorized one million Muslims to perform the rites.

Experts say that with crude oil prices hovering around $100 a barrel, generating billions of dollars a day, the pilgrimage's economic benefit is marginal by comparison. But its great, untapped potential could bring significant riches to the kingdom in the long term.

"Religious tourism in Saudi Arabia may not have the current revenue-generating capacity of the oil and gas sector, but the religious significance of Mecca and Medina will never run dry," said Robert Mogielnicki, a senior scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. "It serves as a crucial foundation to build out the broader Saudi tourism sector and market it to local, regional, and international audiences."

The potential for expansion is significant, says Steffen Hertog, an associate professor at the London School of Economics. Pilgrims could, for example, be incentivized to extend their trips in the country to visit other religious sites or engage in recreation, particularly during the year-round minor pilgrimage, the Umrah, where Hajj-related bottlenecks can be avoided, he said.

According to Mastercard's latest Global Destination Cities Index, Mecca attracted $20 billion in tourist dollars in 2018, second only to Dubai.
Before the pandemic, pilgrimage revenues were forecast to average about $30 billion a year and create 100,000 jobs for Saudis by 2022. That was when the kingdom attracted around 21 million worshippers annually during the 10-day Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, according to official data cited by Reuters.

The number of pilgrims has shrunk significantly during the pandemic but the government is targeting 30 million pilgrims by 2030, which some analysts have said is an ambitious figure.

The pilgrimage has been a drain on the government's finances due to the cost of infrastructure, maintenance, and security, according to Hertog, but it has made big money for the private sector.

Mecca's skyline around the millennia-old pilgrimage site is crowded with swanky skyscrapers housing Western hotel chains overlooking the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure Muslims turn to in prayer five times a day. A night at the iconic Fairmont Makkah Clock Royal Tower, which overlooks the Kaaba, costs up to $4,000 for its most opulent suites for this year's Hajj season.

But the government has been trying to get a slice of that cake. In two years, the state-owned Public Investment Fund plans to open the Rou'a Al Haram Al Makki project just under a mile from the Kaaba, with 70,000 new hotel rooms and 9,000 residential units. It is expected to contribute 8 billion riyals ($2.1 billion) to the Saudi economy.

In a blow to private travel agencies abroad that organize pilgrimages for Muslims in the West, the Saudi government this year announced a new booking platform that obliges foreign pilgrims to register and pay for the process directly through the new government-run system called "Motawif."

The system is designed to streamline the application process, but it has put travel agencies abroad out of business. In the United Kingdom alone, the sector is worth approximately $240 million, and many Hajj operators there are now facing liquidation, according to the Independent newspaper.
Saudi authorities did not respond to CNN's request for a comment.

The only threat to Saudi Arabia's ambitions to capitalize on the pilgrimage "is decreasing religiosity across the world," said Al-Ubaydli. "But as long as Muslims continue to want to visit these sites, they will represent massive economic opportunities to Saudi Arabia."

CNN's Nadeen Ebrahim contributed to this report

https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/06/business ... index.html
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Post by kmaherali »

As received:

In the past, I did not understand the meaning of Eid al Adha. Then I came across this article:

Each of us is Ibrahim. Ibrahim has 'Ismail'. So do you.

Your Ismail may be your wealth. Your Ismail may be your position. Your Ismail may be your title. Your Ismail may be your ego. Your Ismail is someone you care about.

Ibrahim was not not ordered by Allah to kill Ismail.

Allah asked him to kill the sense of ownership, because in essence, everything belongs to Allah.
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Post by kmaherali »

14 Jordanians Die in Intense Heat During Hajj Pilgrimage

The pilgrims died as a result of exposure to extreme sun and heat, Jordan’s official news agency said, as hundreds of thousands poured into Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the Muslim holy trip.

Muslim pilgrims on Sunday near Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca, where temperatures reached nearly 110 degrees.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Fourteen Jordanian pilgrims died as they performed rituals related to the hajj, a holy trip to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that Muslims are encouraged to take once in their lives, Jordan’s official news agency said on Sunday.

The pilgrims died as a result of exposure to extreme sun and heat, the agency said, based on a report from Jordan’s Foreign Ministry. In Mecca, temperatures reached nearly 110 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, and recent studies have indicated that climate change will increase health risks there.

An additional 17 pilgrims were missing, the agency said.

The hajj is one of the largest mass gatherings in the world, with Muslim pilgrims traveling from near and far for the spiritual experience, which is also a physical and mental challenge.

This year, the hajj started on Friday and will end on Wednesday; 1.8 million pilgrims were expected to take part, according to the General Authority for Statistics, a Saudi government agency.

The Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday that the country’s medical center for heat exhaustion had treated 225 pilgrims for heat stress and fatigue.

Deaths have also occurred during previous pilgrimages, including from stampedes. In 2015, more than 700 people died from a stampede. Many pilgrims, who are often older, have also experienced heat stress in recent years, with scores dying from the heat.

The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of the Muslim faith, and many of the rituals take place outdoors, in Mecca and the surrounding desert. These rituals include praying outside the Great Mosque of Mecca and spending the day in prayer at Mount Arafat, often under the blazing sun.

Scientists have warned that weather conditions will be severe when the hajj, which follows the lunar calendar, falls during the summer, as it did this year.

Relief measures have helped reduce cases of heat stress, scientists say. The Saudi authorities have used water mist sprays to cool the air, they said, and they have provided water, umbrellas and air-conditioned transportation for the pilgrims.

Vivian Nereim contributed reporting from Riyadh.

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/06/16/worl ... image.html
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Post by kmaherali »

Intense Heat Grips Saudi Arabia, Killing Dozens at Hajj

Reports from official media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa suggest that dozens of people died during this year’s pilgrimage as temperatures soared.

Video: https://nyti.ms/3Vyg91j

Muslims from around the world faced scorching temperatures as they traveled to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the annual five-day pilgrimage.

Dozens of people have died amid scorching temperatures during the annual hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, according to reports from official media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

With forecasts saying that temperatures would top 113 degrees Fahrenheit, or 45 degrees Celsius, on Tuesday, Saudi officials issued advisories to pilgrims urging them to stay hydrated, minimize outdoor activities, and carry umbrellas to block direct sunlight.

While Saudi Arabia had not reported deaths, news reports from a number of countries whose faithful went to the hajj suggested that the heat had proved deadly.

On Sunday, Jordan’s official news agency said 14 pilgrims had died from exposure to extreme sun and heat. On Wednesday, the agency said burial permits had been issued for 41 Jordanian pilgrims in Mecca, but did not provide details on the causes of death.

Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry said at least 35 Tunisians had died, the state-run Agence Tunis Afrique Presse reported on Tuesday, noting the “sharp rise in temperatures” and “scorching sun” that had accompanied the hajj.

At least 13 people from India’s Kerala State died performing hajj, according to Sathyapalan C., a local official, while the Russian state news agency TASS reported the deaths of four citizens from “natural causes related to health and age.” Three pilgrims from Senegal also died, according to a statement from the country’s Foreign Ministry, without citing a cause of death.

And Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said consular staff in Saudi Arabia were working “around the clock” to help facilitate burials and searches for missing Egyptian pilgrims, without giving a number. Egypt’s Ministry of Immigration has set up a 24-hour “operations room” amid numerous distress calls about missing relatives, the State Information Service said in a statement. It added that officials were visiting hospitals and medical centers in Saudi Arabia to search for any missing pilgrims and to assist with repatriating the dead.

Saudi ministries did not immediately respond to questions about the reports of deaths.

Muslims travel to Mecca from around the world each year to perform the five-day pilgrimage, which ends Wednesday. The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam; all Muslims who are financially and physically able must perform the ritual at least once in their lives.

More than 1.8 million people made the pilgrimage this year, according to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics, with 1.6 million coming from abroad.

ImageA procession of pilgrims, some carrying colorful umbrellas.
A woman affected by the scorching heat resting in Mina, near Mecca.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The first hajj took place in 632. The pilgrimage is now one of the world’s largest Muslim gatherings. Over the years, it been plagued by a number of calamities, from stampedes to fires to outbreaks of disease. A stampede on a bridge in 2006 killed more than 300 people and another in 2015 killed more than 2,200 people.

Many pilgrims, who are often older, have also experienced heat stress in recent years, with scores dying from the heat. The Saudi authorities had taken measures to reduce the risk of heat stress, including setting up hydration stations and using water mist sprays to cool the air.

On Tuesday, Saudi officials billed this year’s hajj season a “success,” with state media reporting that the health minister, Fahd al-Jalajel expressed “particular satisfaction with the fact that there were no outbreaks or other public health threats despite the significant number of pilgrims and the challenges posed by high temperatures.”

The authorities also cited “advanced cooling systems” and the “consistent availability” of water for pilgrims for ensuring a “smooth and secure hajj for all.”

Hwaida Saad and Pragati K.B. contributed reporting.

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Post by swamidada »

Death toll tops 1,000 after Haj marked by extreme heat
AFP Published June 20, 2024 Updated about 14 hours ago

Medical team members evacuate a Muslim pilgrim, affected by the soarching heat, at the base of Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy, during the annual Haj pilgrimage on June 15.

The death toll from this year’s Haj has exceeded 1,000, an AFP tally said on Thursday, more than half of them unregistered worshippers who performed the pilgrimage in extreme heat in Saudi Arabia.

The new deaths reported on Thursday included 58 from Egypt, according to an Arab diplomat who provided a breakdown showing that of 658 Egyptians who passed away, 630 were unregistered pilgrims.

All told, around 10 countries have reported 1,081 deaths during the annual pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam which all Muslims with the means must complete at least once.

The figures have come via official statements or from diplomats working on their countries’ responses.

The Haj, whose timing is determined by the lunar Islamic calendar, fell again this year during the oven-like Saudi summer.

The national meteorological centre reported a high of 51.8 degree Celsius this week at Makkah’s Grand Mosque.

According to a Saudi study published last month, temperatures in the area are rising 0.4°C each decade.

Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims attempt to perform the Haj through irregular channels as they cannot afford the often costly official permits.

Saudi authorities reported clearing hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Makkah this month, but it appears many still participated in the main rites which began last Friday.

This group was more vulnerable to the heat because, without official permits, they could not access air-conditioned spaces provided by Saudi authorities for the 1.8 million authorised pilgrims to cool down after hours of walking and praying outside.

“People were tired after being chased by security forces before Arafat day. They were exhausted,” one Arab diplomat told AFP on Thursday, referring to Saturday’s day-long outdoor prayers that marked the Haj’s climax.

The diplomat said the main cause of death among Egyptian pilgrims was the heat, which triggered complications related to high blood pressure and other issues.

Burials begin
Indonesia, which had around 240,000 pilgrims, raised its death toll to 183, according to the ministry of religious affairs, compared with 313 deaths recorded last year.

Deaths have also been confirmed by Malaysia, India, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, Sudan and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region. In many cases, authorities have not specified the cause.

Meanwhile, friends and family members have been searching for pilgrims who are still missing.

On Wednesday, they scoured hospitals and pleaded online for news, fearing the worst during the scorching temperatures.

Two diplomats told AFP on Thursday that Saudi authorities had begun the burial process for dead pilgrims, which involves cleaning up the bodies, putting them in white burial cloth and taking them to be interred in individual graves.

“The burial is done by the Saudi authorities. They have their own system so we just follow that,” said one diplomat, who pointed out that his country was working to notify loved ones of the dead as best it could.

The other diplomat said that given the number of fatalities, it would be impossible to notify many families ahead of time, especially in Egypt which accounts for so many of the dead.

‘Extreme danger’
Saudi Arabia has not provided information on fatalities, though it reported more than 2,700 cases of “heat exhaustion” on Sunday alone.

Last year, various countries reported more than 300 deaths during the Haj, mostly Indonesians.

The timing of the Haj moves back about 11 days each year in the Gregorian calendar, meaning that next year it will take place earlier in June, potentially in cooler conditions.

A 2019 study by the journal Geophysical Research Letters said because of climate change, heat stress for Haj pilgrims will exceed the “extreme danger threshold” from 2047 to 2052 and 2079 to 2086, “with increasing frequency and intensity as the century progresses”.

Hosting the Haj is a source of prestige for the Saudi royal family, and King Salman’s official title includes the words “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”, in Makkah and Madina.

The Haj has been the scene of a number of stampedes and fires over the years, most recently in 2015 when a stampede during the “stoning the devil” ritual in Mina killed up to 2,300 people in the event’s mostly deadly disaster.

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Official Toll From Hajj Pilgrimage Climbs Into the Hundreds

Post by kmaherali »

Searing heat in Saudi Arabia appeared to at least contribute to many of the deaths.

Muslim pilgrims performing the farewell circumambulation or “tawaf,” on Tuesday, circling seven times around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

During the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, one of the most important events on the Muslim calendar, at least 450 people died under a scorching sun as they prayed at sacred sites around the holy city of Mecca.

Amid maximum temperatures that ranged from 108 Fahrenheit to 120, according to preliminary data, and throngs of people, many passed out and needed medical care. The pilgrims, some who have saved their whole lives for the hajj, spend days walking and sleeping in tents during their journey to Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims. The hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars, and all Muslims who are physically and financially able are obliged to embark on the pilgrimage.

Indonesia has so far reported the most deaths, 199, and India has reported 98. The countries said at this point that they could not be sure that heat was the cause of all the deaths, though, relatives of the missing and dead and tour operators have said the heat was at least a contributing factor.

The number of dead is expected to rise as neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt, where many pilgrims come from, have released death tolls for their citizens.

Egypt is alarmed enough that it has set up crisis centers to receive distress calls and coordinate the government’s response as families brace for a high death toll as many people have been reported missing.

A map of Saudi Arabia highlighting Mecca, also showing Riyadh.















By The New York Times
This year, more than 1.8 million Muslims traveled to Mecca, 1.6 million of them from outside Saudi Arabia, according to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics.

Many complained that there were not enough cooling stations or water for all the pilgrims, and there were early reports that part of the problem was that many people did not officially register for the pilgrimage, possibly to avoid the steep costs of hajj package tours.

A man lying on the ground is spoken to by a man in a military uniform.
A man in distress is helped by a member of the Saudi security forces near Mina on Sunday, as Muslim pilgrims arrive to perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ritual.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Many of the pilgrims are older people who have spent years saving up to travel to the holy city. In the days before and during the holy period of Eid al-Adha, pilgrims visit several holy sites, including circling the Kaaba, and praying on Mount Arafat.

On a hajj Facebook group with more than 900,000 members, Egyptians posted appeals for their missing relatives. In one, a woman left a message for her mother: “Mom, It’s me Rabab. I’ll wait for you outside King Khaled’s Bridge … Please see this post. I am dying for you. You’re the light of my eyes.”

Other countries reporting death tolls include Jordan, Tunisia and Pakistan.

Jordan’s foreign ministry said 75 pilgrims had died “as a result of the intense heat wave.”

Tunisia’s minister of Religious Affairs, Ibrahim Chaibi, said that 49 Tunisians had died. He said that number was expected to rise as the number of pilgrims traveling on tourist visas became more clear, according to Tunisia’s state-run news agency.

One Egyptian tour operator said that because of increasing fees for hajj package tours, as well as the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, many pilgrims opted for tourist visas, which had burdened the facilities set up in Mecca and the surrounding holy sites.

A crowd of people with umbrellas stand beneath sprinklers.
Mist dispensers to cool pilgrims were set up at the base of Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia last week.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The man, who spoke from Mecca, described severe conditions for unregistered pilgrims. Speaking on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns, he said unregistered pilgrims had no tents and were exposed to extreme heat. He said there were too few buses, so many pilgrims walked distances of more than 12 miles.

Hind Hassan, from Egypt, said her aunt Safa Tawab died during the hajj and that the tour company that arranged her trip hid the news until the family found her name on a list of the deceased published online.

A friend who had accompanied Ms. Tawab, 55, told the family that the pilgrimage was like “walking in the road of death because of the heat and the lack of water,” Ms. Hassan said.

Mahmoud Qassem, a member of Egypt’s Parliament, blamed dubious tour operators for “the exposure of Egyptian pilgrims to deception and fraud by tourism companies,” calling for a police investigation.

The hajj has been the site of several tragedies, including a stampede in 2015 that killed more than 2,200 people. In recent years, with rising temperature, many pilgrims have also succumbed to heat stress.

A large area covered in white structures.
Camps for hajj pilgrims in Mina, near Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Islamic Relief, a global aid agency based in London, has warned about the impact of climate change on the hajj since 2019.

“Should the world’s emissions continue in a business-as-usual scenario, temperatures in Mecca will rise to levels that the human body cannot cope with,” Shahin Ashraf, the organization’s head of global advocacy, said in an emailed statement on Friday.

In Pakistan, which has lost at least 35 people, according to official figures, mourners gathered to honor their dead. Dozens of people in Chaman, a city in Balochistan Province along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, offered condolences outside the house of Abdul Bari Kakar. Mr. Kakar, 49, ran a gas cylinder shop and had saved up for months to make what was his third trip, his relatives said.

He chose to go “to pray for his grandfather who passed away years ago,” his son, Sardar Wali, said.

“We are saddened by his death,” he said, “but he was fortunate to have died in the holy land.”

Crowds at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Thick crowds move toward a stone building, with some reaching out to touch it.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hager Elhakeem contributed reporting from Luxor, Egypt, Christina Goldbaum and Zia ur-Rehman contributed from Pakistan, Muktita Suhartono from Indonesia and Judson Jones reported from Atlanta.

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Pilgrim Deaths in Mecca Put Spotlight on Underworld Hajj Industry

Post by kmaherali »

More than 1,300 people died, and a Saudi official said most of them were not registered for the pilgrimage. That left them with little protection from the heat.

Hajj pilgrims near the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia this month.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Emad Mekay and Vivian Nereim
Emad Mekay reported from Cairo and Vivian Nereim from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Published June 23, 2024
Updated June 24, 2024, 11:53 a.m. ET
More than 1,300 people died making the Islamic pilgrimage of hajj in Saudi Arabia this month, the vast majority of whom the Saudi government said did not have permits. Many walked for miles in scorching heat after paying thousands of dollars to illicit or fraudulent tour operators.

While pilgrims with permits are transported around the holy city of Mecca in air-conditioned buses and rest in air-conditioned tents, unregistered ones are often exposed to the elements. In recent days, as temperatures surpassed 120 degrees, some pilgrims described watching people faint and passing bodies in the street.

On Sunday, in an interview on state television, the Saudi health minister, Fahd al-Jalajel, said that 83 percent of the 1,301 reported deaths involved pilgrims who lacked permits.

“The rise in temperatures during the hajj season represented a big challenge this year,” he said. “Unfortunately — and this is painful for all of us — those who didn’t have hajj permits walked long distances under the sun.”

Mr. al-Jalajel’s remarks came after days of silence from the Saudi government over the fatalities during the hajj, an arduous and deeply spiritual ritual that Muslims are encouraged to perform once in their lifetimes if they are physically and financially able.

With nearly two million participating each year, it is not unusual for pilgrims to die from heat stress, illness or chronic disease. It is unclear if the number of deaths this year was higher than usual, because Saudi Arabia does not regularly report those statistics. Last year, 774 pilgrims died from Indonesia alone, and in 1985, more than 1,700 people died around the holy sites, most of them from heat stress, a study at the time found.

An aerial view of a vast complex of tents.
A camp for hajj pilgrims near Mecca. Pilgrims with permits can rest in air-conditioned tents.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But because so many of those who died had no permits, this year’s toll exposed an underbelly of tour operators and smugglers around the world who profit off Muslims desperate to make the journey.

The deaths also laid bare what appeared to be a wide-scale failure of Saudi immigration and security procedures aimed at preventing unregistered pilgrims from reaching the holy sites, including a security cordon around Mecca that locks down weeks before hajj.

Despite those efforts, an estimated 400,000 undocumented people tried to perform the pilgrimage this year, a senior Saudi official told Agence France-Presse, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The hajj has also been the scene of several catastrophes over the years, including a stampede in 2015 that killed more than 2,200 people.

Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment.

In interviews with The New York Times, however, hajj tour operators, pilgrims and relatives of the dead described easily exploited loopholes that allow people to travel to the kingdom with a tourist or visitor visa ahead of hajj, usually assisted by tour operators in their home countries. Once they arrive, they find a network of illegal brokers and smugglers who offer their services and sometimes abandon them to fend for themselves, they said.

The number of unregistered pilgrims appears to have been driven up this year by rising economic desperation in countries like Egypt and Jordan. An official hajj package can cost more than $5,000 or $10,000, depending on a pilgrim’s country of origin — beyond the means of many hoping to make the trip.

Marwa, a 32-year-old Egyptian woman whose parents performed hajj without an official permit this year, said that they had paid around $2,000 for their journey, facilitated by an agent in Egypt and a broker in Saudi Arabia. They felt that they had to go soon because, as Egypt’s currency loses value, their savings shrink every year, she said. Marwa asked to be identified only by her first name to avoid legal repercussions.

Several countries with large numbers of deceased pilgrims have moved quickly to contain the fallout.

Emergency responders wearing yellow hats and carrying a patient on a stretcher.
A rescue during the hajj this month. Temperatures surpassed 120 degrees at times.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Friday, the president of Tunisia, which counted more than 50 pilgrims among the dead, fired the country’s religious affairs minister. In Jordan, which recorded the deaths of at least 99 pilgrims, the public prosecutor opened an investigation into illegal hajj routes. And in Egypt, the authorities said that they would revoke the licenses of 16 companies that issued visas to pilgrims without providing adequate services.

“There’s so much greed around this business,” said Iman Ahmed, a co-owner of El-Iman Tours in Cairo.

Ms. Ahmed said that she refused to send unregistered pilgrims on hajj packages but that other Egyptian tour operators and Saudi brokers made big money doing so.

One unregistered pilgrim who died was Safaa al-Tawab, a grandmother from the Egyptian city of Luxor, according to her brother, Ahmed al-Tawab. Ms. al-Tawab, 55, had not been able to obtain a hajj permit but found an Egyptian tour company to take her for around $3,000, he said.

Ms. al-Tawab did not realize that she was violating the rules when she traveled to Saudi Arabia, her brother said, and after she arrived, she told relatives that she had been put in inadequate housing and prevented from going outside. While the tour operator had promised air-conditioned buses to take the pilgrims around Mecca, she instead found herself walking for miles in the heat, Mr. al-Tawab said.

Before the hajj, the Saudi authorities posted billboards and sent a barrage of text messages reminding people that it is illegal to perform the pilgrimage without a permit; violators face fines, deportation and bans on re-entering the kingdom.

Entry to Mecca was barred weeks before hajj for visitors without permits. Yet many pilgrims were able to evade the restrictions, arriving in Mecca early and hiding out, or paying smugglers to ferry them into the city.

One Jordanian pilgrim, who asked to be identified only as Um Abdulrahman, a nickname, because she feared repercussions, said that she encountered several smugglers to help her move around Mecca, including one who charged around $200 to drive her into the city over a rocky mountain route. But she ended up walking for hours in the sun without access to water or bathrooms, she said.

At one point, the police briefly detained her group, wrote down their names and left them in the middle of nowhere, she said. Um Abdulrahman, 49, said she knew her journey was illegal, but that she had not fully grasped the risks.

Even for the young and fit, the hajj is a physically challenging event, and many pilgrims are elderly or ailing by the time they can make the journey. Some believe that the hajj might be their final rite, and that dying in Mecca will confer great blessings.

A smiling man holding an open umbrella is sprayed with water by a person in an official-looking orange vest.
Spraying a pilgrim with water for relief from the heat.Credit...Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press

The Saudi government deploys measures to reduce the effects of extreme heat, including spraying pilgrims with mists of water. One recent study estimated that the incidence of heat stroke at hajj had actually declined — although the researchers warned that could shift as worsening heat caused by climate change outpaces measures to mitigate it.

Abdulhalim Dahir, 31, a Kenyan pilgrim who made the hajj with his brother and father using official permits, said that his journey was smooth, with air-conditioned tents, air-conditioned buses and easy access to water.

“It was an amazing experience — once in a lifetime,” he said.

But even some who were in Mecca legally complained about inadequate facilities for the heat.

Makhdoom Ali, 36, a Pakistani computer engineer who traveled there with his 65-year-old mother, said he had seen several pilgrims collapse from heat exhaustion with no immediate assistance available.

“Many lives could have been saved with better government arrangements,” Mr. Ali said.

Mr. al-Jalajel, the health minister, said that one quarter of the health services provided during hajj were rendered to undocumented pilgrims. “We look at them as a pilgrim, regardless of their permit, race or nationality,” he said.

Among the dead were at least two Americans.

Isatu Wurie, 65, and Alieu Wurie, 71, of Maryland died during their pilgrimage to Mecca.
Credit...Saida Wurie

Isatu Wurie, 65, and Alieu Wurie, 71 — Maryland residents — had saved for years to make the pilgrimage, paying $23,000 to a local tour operator, said their daughter, Saida Wurie.

But after they arrived in Mecca, the operator told them to stay in their hotel until permits were issued for them, they told their daughter. Her parents were frustrated because they had believed they were going “by the book,” Ms. Wurie said.

They were still able to perform some of the initial rituals of hajj, and they were “so excited to see the Kaaba,” she said — the cubic structure that Muslims believe was the first house of worship.

The last message she received from her mother said that a bus to take them to one of the sites had not arrived, and that they had been walking for two hours instead.

Despite her frustration at the tour operator, as well as the difficulty of locating their bodies — buried in Mecca — Ms. Wurie believes her parents were filled with joy in their final days.

“They died doing exactly what they wanted to do,” she said. “They’ve always wanted to make it to hajj.”

Hager ElHakeem, Rana F. Sweis, Zia ur-Rehman, Saif Hasnat, Mujib Mashal, Safak Timur, Aida Alami and Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.

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Soaring Temperatures and Profit Seekers Amplify Dangers on the Hajj

Post by kmaherali »

“The halls felt like they were on fire,” one Jordanian woman said of her accommodations after she opted to take a cheaper travel package for “unregistered” pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

Muslims performing the Eid al-Adha morning prayer around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on June 16, marking the end of the hajj pilgrimage.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Huda Omari sat outside a broker’s office in Jordan for two days, waiting for her visa to make the annual hajj, or pilgrimage, to Saudi Arabia.

In Egypt, Magda Moussa’s three sons pooled their resources to scrape together nearly $9,000 to realize a dream of accompanying their mother to the hajj. When she got the go-ahead for the trip, she said, relatives and neighbors in her village ululated in celebration.

The dayslong pilgrimage is a profound spiritual journey and an arduous trek under the best of circumstances. ​But this year, amid record ​h​eat, at least 1,300 pilgrims did not survive the hajj, and Saudi authorities said that more than 80 percent of the dead were pilgrims who lacked permits.

Ms. Omari and Ms. Moussa were among a large number of unregistered pilgrims relying on illicit or fraudulent tour operators to skirt the official permit process.​ Both said they were aware that the once-in-a-lifetime trip would be physically and financially demanding, but neither foresaw the terrible heat or mistreatment they would endure.

“We were humiliated and punished for being there illegally,” Ms. Omari, 51, told The New York Times after returning home.

With nearly two million people participating each year, it is not unusual for pilgrims to die from heat stress, illness or chronic disease during the hajj. And it is unclear whether this year’s toll was higher than usual because Saudi Arabia does not regularly report the numbers. Last year, 774 pilgrims died from Indonesia alone, and in 1985 more than 1,700 people died around the holy sites, most of them from heat stress, a study at the time found.

But this year’s deaths drew attention to the disturbing underbelly of an industry that profits from pilgrims who often spend years saving to complete one of Islam’s most important rites.

ImageA person with an umbrella walks through a crowd of people in a city on a sunny day.
Muslim pilgrims arriving in Mecca on June 11 before the annual pilgrimage.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

To control the influx of visitors and avoid tragedies like the 2015 stampede, the Saudi government has sought to register pilgrims. Those who are registered must buy a government-sanctioned travel package that has become too expensive for many.

Those who enter on other types of visitors’ visas have difficulty accessing the safety measures put in place by the authorities. So pilgrims’ financial means determined the conditions and treatment they experienced, including their protection from — or exposure to — the Gulf’s increasingly dangerous and extreme heat.

Registered pilgrims stay in hotels in the holy city of Mecca or in Mina, a city of white tents that can house up to three million and which offers showers, kitchens and air-conditioning. They are also transported between holy sites, sparing them from the hot sun.

The map highlights the city of Mecca in western Saudi Arabia, and the city of Mina, just east of Mecca. Mount Arafat, southeast of Mina is also indicated. It also locates the port city of Jeddah on the Red Sea. The city of Bahadah, near Cairo in Egypt, and Amman, the capital of Jordan, are also located.


Red Sea

















By The New York Times
The unregistered in Mecca found themselves stuffed in bare apartments in a southern district that has become popular with the travel brokers who cater to them, according to some of those who went. During the months surrounding the rite, these brokers rent out entire buildings and pack them with pilgrims.

Still, many are undeterred. And as pilgrims return to their home countries, a clearer picture is emerging of the conditions they endured.

One person sits beside a suitcase as another person stands nearby at a brick wall.
Pilgrims in Mecca last month.Credit...Abdel Ghani Bashir/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Working with the Saudi authorities, Jordan has limited the number of people allowed to participate in the hajj annually. And the Jordanian authorities said last week they had arrested 54 people and shuttered three travel agencies after 99 Jordanians died during the hajj.

Ms. Omari lives in Irbid, Jordan’s second largest city, where she said she sells spices to make extra money. She scraped together 140 Jordanian dinar, nearly $200, for a visa that allows Muslims to visit Saudi holy sites but excludes them from the hajj.

In all, Ms. Omari paid 2,000 dinars (more than $2,800) for a package that included travel, insurance and accommodations. Though it was “no small amount,” she said, it was still just half of the cost of the official hajj package.

Egypt, where rising inflation and a weakened currency have put the pilgrimage out of reach for many, may have had one of the highest number of fatalities this year, but the authorities there have not confirmed the toll. Egyptian officials have recently closed 16 tour operators, and arrested and charged two travel brokers.

Magda Moussa’s three sons had long dreamed of taking her to the hajj, and this was the year that dream would be realized. It would cost them 120,000 Egyptian pounds (nearly $2,500) for her trip alone, and they would accompany her at 100,000 Egyptian pounds each. Still, the cost was substantially less than the official package.

When Ms. Moussa, a widowed grandmother who used to work as a telecoms technician, received her visa, her family and neighbors in the village of Bahadah, near the capital Cairo, celebrated her good fortune.

Magda Moussa looks into the distance inside her home.
Magda Moussa, 63, at home in her village in Egypt last month.Credit...Fatma Fahmy for The New York Times

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, dating back centuries to when pilgrims first walked in the footsteps of the prophets. All Muslims who are physically and financially able are obliged to perform it at least once.

Today, there are tiered visitors’ packages for the registered and a widening gap between those who can afford these packages and the unregistered who cannot.

When Ms. Omari arrived, she said, she was assigned a room in a building where the air-conditioning barely worked.

“The halls felt like they were on fire,” she said.

So she shelled out more money for a decent hotel, where she shared a room with women from her hometown.

Ms. Moussa was luckier: Her sons paid hundreds of dollars for her to have a bed in a hotel room with three other women, while the sons spent more than $200 to sleep on a mattress on the floor in another building, in a room crowded with eight men.

Crowds of people pack into wide walled-off streets that wind through a cityscape.
Pilgrims arriving to perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ritual as part of the hajj in Mina on June 16.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Saudi officials removed at least 300,000 unregistered pilgrims from Mecca even before the hajj began, sending many of those without proper documentation to the port city of Jeddah, more than 40 miles away, according to Saudi state media. Others were deported.

As the hajj drew closer, police raids intensified, witnesses said.

“We are pilgrims. We are Muslims,” said Ms. Omari. “We are not here to cause problems.”

Panicking brokers fearing arrest cut off electricity or disconnected internet service in some buildings to make them appear unoccupied, witnesses said. Some even chained the gates to the buildings to keep pilgrims in and the police out.

“Often we felt imprisoned,” said Ahmed Mamdouh Massoud, one of Ms. Moussa’s sons. He had traveled as an unregistered pilgrim before, he said. But this year, he felt very unwelcome.

“I never saw anything as bad as this time,” he said, describing the heavy police presence, dozens of check points and random checks.

Ms. Moussa said her family had lived off canned food that they brought from Egypt during the hajj and, out of fear, ventured outside only to buy yogurt and dates in Mecca.

Ms. Omari, who arrived nearly a month before the hajj began in mid-June, remained holed up in the room she shared with four other women, leaving only to perform religious rites.

“We know we only go once in our lifetime, and this was it,” she said.

On the eve of the Day of Arafat — the day when pilgrims gather near Mount Arafat as one of the hajj rituals — no car or bus would pick her up because she did not have the right permit, Ms. Omari said. So she walked 12 miles to reach the plain of Arafat under a scorching sun with choking humidity. Temperatures surpassed 120 degrees during the hajj period.

“It was like fire from the sky and under your feet,” she said.

Magda Mousa, wearing a backpack on her front, raises her arms while standing among numerous other pilgrims.
A picture of Magda Mousa in Arafat taken by her son Ahmed Masoud.

Ms. Moussa said she had tried to board a bus, but a Saudi police officer demanded hajj permits from her and the women she was with. The officer threatened to end their pilgrimage, so close to its zenith, if they could not produce permits.

“After all those years wishing for this day, now they want to prevent us?” she said.

Ms. Moussa, stung by the treatment, said she quietly exited the bus through the back door. She bundled her belongings and balanced them on her head, and then began walking. Stopping only to pray or ask for directions, she walked through the night.

“I had plastic slippers on,” she said. “By the time I arrived, they had gotten so worn-out, they felt as if I was wearing nothing on my feet.”

As she walked, she said, pilgrims in air-conditioned buses gawked at her as she limped along the path. Someone took a video of her that went viral in Egypt.

The two women’s families reached the plain of Arafat, but the walk back exposed the tragedy of the situation.

“Younger people than me were lying dead,” Ms. Moussa said. “It was heartbreaking.”

A person in uniform attends to a person lying on the ground as others sit or walk nearby.
A man affected by the scorching heat is helped by a member of the Saudi security forces in Mina on June 16.Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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