Monday, 5 January 2009

Accident-Free Most Successful
This Year’s Hajj

Dr. Mozammel Haque

This year’s Hajj was the accident-free most successful Hajj because the nearly three million pilgrims completed their rituals in a peaceful and secure atmosphere. They stoned Jamarat Al-Aqaba in the City of Tents (Mina), slaughtered sacrificial animals and performed Tawaf Al-Ifadah on Monday, the 10th of Dhul Hijjah (8th of December 2008). This year’s Hajj was free from any disaster. This is mainly due to the newly-built high-tech four-level SR.4-billion Jamarat Bridge which has the capacity to accommodate up to 300,000 people per hour and up to 5 million pilgrims in total and also due to road network inside the Holy sites.

According to the latest statistics from the General Statistics Authority in the Kingdom, 2,408,849 pilgrims, including 1,729,841 from abroad, performed Hajj this year. About 200,000 pilgrims are believed to be from the city of Makkah. Nearly 480,000 illegal local pilgrims, mostly foreigners, were able to sneak through the roads leading to Makkah to perform Hajj this year, official said.

Stoning at Jamarat
The stoning at Jamarat, which began on Monday, the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, is the most potentially perilous aspect of Hajj due to so many people convening at this location. Nearly three million people passed through the Jamarat complex to symbolically throw their stones at the three pillars of Satan. In order to protect the crowd from it, more than 300,000 security personnel were positioned at several places on the bridge and before the entrances to the bridge. Their aim was to ensure one-way flow of foot traffic through the recently renovated and expanded complex, which is still incomplete but considerably larger and more accommodating than last year.

The three-story Jamarat Bridge, which is 1.2 kilometre in length and 100 metres in width, is a magnificent architectural structure. The oval-shaped places for stoning the Jamarat have been designed in such a way as to enable the pilgrims perform the stoning ritual with ease and in comfort. By Wednesday noon, the 12th of Dhul-Hijjah, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims stoned the Jamarat safely.

Nearly three million pilgrims began on Monday the first day of the Eid Al-Adha feast, by stoning the Jamarat Al-Aqaba, followed by sacrificing animal to commemorate the willingness of Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son for God and then shaving the head or trimming the hair. The first step of the ritual went on smoothly and with ease. Monday’s ritual was the first real test for Hajj forces preparations on Al-Jamarat Bridge.

Measures taken to make Hajj Smoothly
All these went smoothly because of the following measures taken by the Saudi authorities to make this year as well as all other years Hajj accident-free successful Hajj. The following measures, such as enforcement of ‘No Permit No Hajj’ law, Traffic movement at Jamarat, Emergency and Evacuation Plans, carrying bags and suitcases not allowed at Jamarat, smooth Vehicular Movement at Holy sites and Crowd Management in Grand Mosque in Makkah.

Enforcement of ‘No Permit, No Hajj’ Law
The enforcement of the ‘No Permit, No Hajj’ Law this year had decreased the number of illegal local pilgrims by 60 percent. Nearly 480,000 illegal local pilgrims, mostly foreigners, were able to sneak through the roads leading to Makkah to perform Hajj this year, reported in the press.

Traffic Movement at Jamarat
To facilitate pilgrims on the first day of Tashreeq especially in the Jamarat area, a large force of newly trained security personnel was assigned to regulate the flow of pilgrims towards the Jamarat Bridge. Civil Defence teams of 5,000 cadets were mobilized to oversee the movement of the pilgrims during the stoning ritual.

Emergency and Evacuation Plan
About 2,000 Civil Defence officers were trained to deal with emergencies and evacuation plans. A section of the force was responsible for ensuring that pilgrims were not carrying any luggage or other belongings while coming for the stoning ritual. About 100,000 Saudi Security personnel oversaw security, traffic and other arrangements in the Holy sites.

Carrying bags and suitcases not allowed at Jamarat
As per order of the Hajj organisers, the pilgrims were not allowed to carry bags and suitcases with them during the stoning ritual. This means that they had to stone the Jamarat after 12.00 p.m. and then return to their tents to collect their luggage before proceeding to Makkah for Tawaf al-Wida – the final duty in Hajj before they return home.

Smooth Vehicular Movement at Holy sites
The increase in the number of Tunnels at the Holy sites had facilitated the traffic flow during this Hajj. Three more Tunnels were added this year to the old five Tunnels through which vehicles transport pilgrims and goods. The new Tunnels were instrumental in ensuring smooth vehicular movement and the special tunnel security force, a task force that monitors patrols and resolve issues exclusively in the tunnels that arise from time to time. The control room was the heart of the operation tracking movement in the Tunnels. They supervised the activities of the tunnel task force.

Crowd Management in Grand Mosque in Makkah
About 1,500 cameras were installed in the Holy sites to monitor the millions of pilgrims coming for completion of their Hajj rituals and some 800 cameras watched pilgrims in the Grand Mosque in Makkah as a way to manage the crowd and avoid congestion that might lead to stampede. These cameras helped to take appropriate decisions for crowd management. 6,000 security men from four security agencies were working together to secure the routes for nearly 2.5 million pilgrims who performed the farewell Tawaf (Tawaf Al-Wada) on Wednesday, the 12th of Dhul-Hijjah. The mass of pilgrims doing Tawaf was transmitted via LCD screens distributed in the courtyards of the Haram.

Introduction of Special facilities
During this year’s Hajj, so many special facilities such as caring those with special needs, setting up pharmacies and ATMs in Mina for Pilgrims benefit, charging points for Mobile Battery, chairs for barbar in Mina, lost pilgrim centre, and Hospital in Mina were introduced.

Caring those with Special Needs
Pilgrims with special needs this year are grateful to King Abdullah who had provided them with special vehicles to the Jamarat Bridge for the ritual of stoning the devil. King Abdullah this year made available 10 small buses to take pilgrims with special needs to Al-Jamarat. The Ministry of Education also sent this year 19 Boy Scouts all of whom were hearing-impaired to work at the hospitals in Mina.

Setting up Pharmacies, ATMs in Mina for Pilgrims benefit
For the first time during a Hajj season, the Municipality of Makkah had set up a special location for pharmacies and ATM machines to help the pilgrims. In Mina, there were six pharmacies and eight ATM machines making it convenient for the pilgrims to find the things they need. The Municipality this year had also earmarked 300 sites for selling goods to pilgrims.

Charging points for Mobile battery
To facilitate pilgrims charging their mobile batteries, authorities had set up several points at various places in Mina.

Chairs for Barbers in Mina
This year the Municipality had allocated 1,100 barber chairs for barbers at different places in the Holy sites and Municipal inspectors made regular tours to guarantee that only new razors were used for shaving pilgrims’ heads.

The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) trained over 100 barbers who were committed to observe health regulations at their centre in Mina. The Centre of Saudi barbers functioned in the midst of chaotic barbershops around the Jamarat.

Lost Pilgrim Centre
The rate of lost pilgrims was much lower than last year. The Lost Pilgrims Centre, which has been in existence for two years, aims to help lost pilgrims who otherwise would spend hours trying to find their way around. There were more than 20 centres around Mina equipped with a computerized system to give the required help to lost pilgrims. Using modern technology, the Saudi Scouts Society (SSS) in cooperation with different ministries including Hajj, Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance and different security departments was able to guide lost pilgrims to their tents.

There were 4,000 Boy Scouts working this Hajj. About 1,500 of them were representing the Ministry of Education while the remaining was from different Saudi Universities.

Hospital In Mina
Al-Jessar Hospital in Mina is not a small operation. This 122-bed facility has 330 staff members during Hajj including 92 physicians and 140 nurses and Lab assistants. The Hospital also has four intensive care units. The very worst year in the Hajj service was in 1997, the year of the tent fire, in which more than 300 pilgrims were killed. This year the number of patients treated at the Hospital was 50 percent less than last year.

Media coverage of this year’s Hajj
The media’s coverage of this year’s Hajj was greater than ever. As recently as the late 1990’s, there was almost no coverage of Hajj outside the Middle East. Then a decade ago, Riz Khan covered the event for CNN.

For this year’s Hajj, about 300 media representatives from various parts of the world were covering Hajj season this year. They represent Arab, Islamic and international television channels, news agencies, newspapers and broadcasting stations.

Comments by U.S. Congressman
Keith Ellison, a member of the United States Congress from Minnesota, said he was amazed at the beautiful and marvellously designed architecture of the Holy Mosque in Makkah and the Jamarat Bridge in Mina. He also praised the well thought-out and brilliantly-executed Hajj arrangements and the cleanliness and hygienic conditions in Mina, reported in Jeddah-based English daily Saudi Gazette.

Eid-ul-Adha Messages from Two Kingdoms
Next day after Arafat, the 9th of Dhul Hijjah, Monday, the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, corresponding to 8th of December 2008, when the Pilgrims completed their stoning rituals at Jamarat, sacrificing animals, the Eid-ul-Adha was celebrated throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in Makkah and Madina as well as in the United Kingdom, on Monday, the 8th of December, 2008. On this occasion of Eid Al-Adha, King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defence and Aviation and Inspector General, greeted citizens, pilgrims and all Muslims. In their address, the King and the Crown Prince laid stress on promoting the values of truth, goodness and integrity shunning hostility and animosity.

King Abdullah’s Message on Monday
“From this sacred land, Mina, Mount Arafat and the Grand Mosque, to where the pilgrims flocked responding to God’s call and stood in prayers and circumambulated the Kaaba, we congratulate the pilgrims for performing Hajj and related rituals. We also pray the Almighty Allah to accept and bless their Hajj,” King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan said in a greeting message read out by Higher Education Minister Khaled Al-Anqari.

“The Hajj rituals bind the pilgrims together with a sense of love and compassion and mutual support cutting across their differences of colour, nationalities and languages,” the king and crown prince said in a joint statement. “By performing Hajj rituals, they (the pilgrims) fill the world, in fact, the entire world with mercy, tolerance, compassion and peace, promoting the values of truth, goodness and integrity while getting rid of all their hatred and animosities. Consequently, they will return to their home countries enriched with this kind of spiritual light which pushes human values to their peaks,” the joint message said.

They also underscored the role of Hajj in promoting the values of truth, virtue and integrity and ending resentment and animosity. “Dear brothers and sisters: The pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque of Makkah is a great occasion for which every Muslim participates with his full heart, mind and soul. As such, you ought to utilize these blessed moments in order to return as if you were just born, pure from sins and misdeeds, and to return to your families enriched with some of the rewards of Hajj, well-guided and ready to guide,” the message said.

“We wish you and all mankind safety and peace,” the King and Crown Prince concluded.

Eid Sermons from Haramain in Makkah and Madina
Eid prayers were offered in hundreds of thousands of prayer places and mosques across the Kingdom. The Eid Al-Adha prayer in the Masjid Al-Haram was led by Sheikh Saleh Bin Muhammad Aal Talib. He said the purpose of Eid was to recognize and thank Allah for the bounties He blessed us with.

Aal Talib reminded that the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah stress moral excellence, good manners and safeguarding society’s and individuals’ rights. People should be kind and obedient to their parents, keep in touch with their relatives, greet people and keep away from harming or annoying others. The Islamic teachings stress the spreading of love and harmony and warn against cheating, envy and backbiting.

Aal Talib said the Ummah is in dire need for ties of brotherhood and unity among them. There is a need that Muslims unite under one message and goal, spreading good faith towards one another. He warned against conflicts and differences and pointed out that the worst kind of discord is to differ on religion. He stressed that Islam came as a mercy for the entire mankind, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Not only this, but Islam teaches us to be kind to animals, birds and the natural things. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to visit the sick among the Jews and accept their invitations. The Shariah has protected the rights of non-Muslims killed by mistake, as blood-money has to be paid.

In the Prophet’s Mosque, Sheikh Ali Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Hudhaifi led the Eid prayers. He said Eid purifies the hearts and brings people together for a good purpose. Sheikh Al-Hudhaifi advised Muslims to be kind and obedient to their parents, visit and maintain ties with their relatives, be kind to their neighbours, and care for their rights. He urged Muslims to have good manners while dealing with people.

Eid-ul-Adha Messages from the United Kingdom
Both the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom sent their Eid-ul-Adha Messages to the British Muslim Community on the auspicious occasion of the Eid-ul-Adha.

The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, M.P. has sent a message to the British Muslim Community, saying his warm best wishes on the auspicious occasion of the Eid ul-Adha. The Prime Minister said, “For me, the inspirational thing about the act of Hajj is the great restlessness it shows in the Ummah – the great stirrings for justice that reside in the Muslim heart. When people are drawn from each corner of the world, inspired by a shared and ancient ideal to act as one in the service of a better world – then it summons in us a truly modern hope that we can build a global society characterised by fairness and cooperation and respect.”

“At this special time for the Muslim community we can also reflect upon and celebrate the tremendous contributions of British Muslims to our national life, said the British Prime Minister.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, M.P. also sent his best wishes on this special occasion of Eid-ul Adha. “As Muslims all over the world, including in Britain, celebrate with their families, it is a good moment to reflect on the message that Eid carries for us all,” said the British Foreign Secretary and added, “Eid Al Adha marks the completion of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam. It commemorates the sacrifice and steadfastness of the prophet Abraham, forefather of Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. These two qualities, of sacrifice and steadfastness, are ones that must guide what we do - in our families, in our communities, and in how we act in the world.”

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