Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Pilgrims pour into Mina camp from Mecca as the hajj begins

The world’s largest annual pilgrimage, the hajj, began on Sunday with more than two million Muslims pouring into the camp at Mina from Mecca to prepare for the solemn rituals.

Some estimates put the number of pilgrims this year at 2,5-million, posing a major headache for the Saudi authorities as many of them are not hajj permit holders.

Pilgrims were still flooding on Sunday night into the vast plain of Mina outside a small village about five kilometres east of Mecca, using all possible means to begin their hajj journey.

At least two million Muslims have descended on Mecca in Saudi Arabia thus far to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage — a religious duty that every adult Muslim is expected to do once in their lives if they are able. The total anticipated number of pilgrims in Mecca this year is estimated to come to more than 3.4 million, the highest number ever recorded.

Permits were granted to 1,7-million foreign pilgrims, but the head of the Hajj Supreme Committee, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, on Sunday put the number of foreign pilgrims at a record 1,8-million.

A further 200 000 permits were issued to pilgrims from within Saudi Arabia and from neighbouring Gulf states.

An interior ministry official said definite numbers will not be announced until Tuesday, the first day of Eid Al-Adha or the Feast of the Sacrifice.

This year has seen a crackdown on those without the requisite papers as the authorities try to prevent numbers from getting out of hand.

A driver caught transporting unauthorised pilgrims faces a fine of 10 000 riyals ($2 667 for each one.

But the “No permit, no hajj” rule appeared to be widely flouted on Sunday as unauthorised pilgrims converged on Mina from across Saudi Arabia.

“We came from Riyadh,” said a Palestinian after being dropped off with two companions at a junction leading to Mina and Arafat, as others arrived in pick-ups, taxis and small buses.

“We skirted the checkpoints by getting out of the car and walking across,” he said without revealing his name, pointing out that once past the highway’s main police checkpoints, getting to the sites is easy.

Buses, choked with both people and luggage inside, carried yet more on their roofs. Tens of thousands of illegal pilgrims sat on the pavements, many with tents.

“We don’t have permits,” said Ramadan Ismael, an Egyptian in his mid-50s who also came from Riyadh. He said a policeman let his group of 14 through even though they told him: “We have no permits.”

Meanwhile, pilgrims in licensed groups sat comfortably in their enclosed and well-equipped camps.

The passage to Mina marks the official launch of the hajj on the eighth day of the Muslim calendar month of Dhul Hijja.

The day is known as Tarwiah (Watering) as pilgrims in the past stopped at Mina to water their animals and stock up for the trip to Mount Arafat.

At Mount Arafat, some 10km south-east of Mina, the day is spent in prayer and reflection.

Some pilgrims by Sunday evening had already camped on the plain of Arafat, instead of at Mina, shortening the upcoming trip to the hill.

After sunset, they move to Muzdalifah, half way between Mount Arafat and Mina, to spend the night.

On Tuesday, they return to Mina after dawn prayers for the first stage of the symbolic “stoning of the devil” and to make the ritual sacrifice of an animal, usually a lamb.

On the remaining three days of the hajj, the pilgrims continue the ritual stoning before performing the circumambulation of the Kaaba shrine in Mecca and then heading home.

This year has been incident-free since the pilgrims began gathering in Mecca. The city’s Grand Mosque has been flooded with the faithful, with an estimated 1.7 million taking part in the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday.

The movement of pilgrims between the holy sites is a major worry for the authorities who have had to deal with deadly stampedes in the past.

Saudi Arabia has used its huge oil revenues for massive spending on new infrastructure to ease the flow of humanity.

This year, the first phase of the new Mashair Railway — or Mecca metro — will transport pilgrims between Mina and Mount Arafat through Muzdalifah. – AFP

The Jamarat Bridge, where the ritual of stoning takes place, has also been expanded to five levels with movement channelled in one direction.

Security is also a concern.

On Wednesday, the interior minister said he could not rule out the possibility of an Al-Qaeda attack, but on Sunday Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said it is against targeting the hajj.

“We assure our Islamic nation that we are against any criminal action aimed at the pilgrims,” it said in an online statement. – AFP

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Zondo may miss chief justice cut

The deputy chief justice is said to top Ramaphosa’s list but his position as head of the state capture commission is seen as too politically fraught

Government fails to act on officials implicated in R3bn SIU...

Half of the 127 managers incriminated in gross procurement corruption have yet to be disciplined

More top stories

‘The Making of Mount Edgecombe’: A view of history from...

Indian indentured labourers’ lives are celebrated in a new book, Sugar Mill Barracks: The Making of Mount Edgecombe

Case of men arrested with 19 rhino horns is postponed

Alleged rhino kingpin and a Mpumalanga businessman appeared in court on charges of the illegal possession and selling of rhino horns

Zuma’s rescission application dismissed with costs

Former president Jacob Zuma fails to meet requirements in his application to set aside his contempt order and prison sentence

Plastic pollution in 2019 cost South Africa staggering R885bn

Yet plans are underway to import more plastic waste into the country and it has not signed global plastics treaty
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×