Over 1.8m pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia for Hajj: Officials - GulfToday

Over 1.8m pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia for Hajj: Officials

Makkah

Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Hundreds of thousands of white-clad pilgrims, many gripping umbrellas, descended on the Holy City of Makkah this week ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Authorities said more than 1.8 million pilgrims had so far arrived in the kingdom.

Saudi officials asked Muslims to focus on rituals of worship, warning against politicising the rite.

“Hajj is not a place for political conflicts or to raise sectarian slogans that divide Muslims,” Abdulrahman Al Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque of Makkah, told reporters.

Makkah Governor Prince Khalid Al Faisal asked worshippers earlier this week to “leave all other matters in your countries to discuss when you are back.”

Outside the Grand Mosque, the world’s largest, industrial fans sprayed water.

“All of this is for the sake of the Hajj,” 43-year-old Fatima Sayed from Giza, Egypt, said of the searing heat.

“We applied twice before but God didn’t permit it, and, thank God, it was a very big surprise that He ordained it for me this year.”

Every able-bodied Muslim who has the means should perform the Hajj at least once in their lifetime under a quota system.

Saudi Arabia has made use of technology to manage the flow of millions at the same place at the same time.

This includes electronic identification bracelets, connected to GPS, that were introduced after a 2015 crush killed hundreds of people.

A new highspeed railway linking Makkah and Madinah, Islam’s second most sacred site, is being used during the Hajj season for the first time after its inauguration last September.

The pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil.

Amjad Khan, a pharmacist from Manchester in Britain, said the new measures made the pilgrimage a smoother experience.

“Here in the company of our brothers from all over the world, it’s a very good feeling,” Khan, 36, said.

Separately, Eid Al Salwaawi, 69, paints murals of the rituals of the Hajj pilgrimage on the walls of a house in Cairo’s Sayeda Zainab neighbourhood.

Sometimes he volunteers to paint scenes that celebrate the Hajj and religious stories and lessons, other times he is paid.

Salwaawi said the Hajj scenes he saw on the walls of houses in his home village as a child in northern Aswan captured his imagination. “So I draw camel caravans and soldiers wearing traditional hats guarding them,” he said.

He uses simple tools like a handmade palm frond brush and a mixture of paint, vinegar, rosewater, gum Arabic and glue.

One mural depicts women as they embark on the pilgrimage, dressed in bright colours, another shows a caravan carrying the tapestry that covers the Kaaba.

Each mural takes him between two and three hours.

Meanwhile, in Makkah, dotted with fast food eateries and stalls selling Chinese-made trinkets, vendors are ready to cash in on the annual Hajj pilgrimage. “Business is going very well,” said Faisal Addais from his stall close to the Grand Mosque.

“The customers are foreigners and speak all languages,” added the 41-year-old Yemeni, who sells religious souvenirs.

To overcome linguistic challenges, sales are often conducted with the help of a calculator.

Potential customers stroll past the stalls and shops, while pigeons coo at their ankles on the bustling thoroughfare.

Retailer Ali said his sales were expected to “increase five-fold” during Hajj, which this year is expected to attract 2.5 million worshippers from Saudi and across the world between Friday and Tuesday.

The pilgrimage draws vendors to the Holy City, the majority peddling religious wares.

“The religious and mercantile dimensions have always been linked in Makkah,” said Luc Chantre, author of several books about the pilgrimage in the modern era.

“When they had come from far away, pilgrims needed to trade to finance their stays — and some even went home in profit,” Chantre said.

“What’s new is that these vast multi-storey malls have replaced the old bazaars around the Grand Mosque.”

Air-conditioned shopping centres near the Grand Mosque are home to leading luxury brands, which welcome a constant stream of pilgrims — except during prayer times.

Beyond the religious souvenirs, visitors to Makkah can pick up highly-coveted Saudi gold, watches, clothes and more.

The city’s restaurants and fast food outlets, either in narrow side streets or on main arteries, are deluged by worshippers around the clock.

Makkah is unlike Christian pilgrimage sites such as Lourdes in France and Mexico’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe where “trade is linked exclusively to souvenirs and religious offerings,” said Chantre.

Makkah’s nearby city of Jeddah is the traditional home of western Saudi Arabia’s mercantile families, partly owing to its vast port.

Agencies