By SIRAJ WAHAB, SYED FAISAL ALI & AMJAD PARKAR | ARAB NEWS
Published: Nov 18, 2010 23:49 Updated: Nov 19, 2010 00:39
MINA: A downpour that swept Mina disrupted the retreat of pilgrims as Haj 2010 drew to a close on Thursday.
Rains started belting down across the arid valley around 3 p.m. as many of the Hajis began streaming out of the tent city after performing the stoning ritual for the third consecutive day.
Right from noon Mina was enveloped by thick black clouds and a strong wind was blowing across the valley. The skies finally opened up at 3 p.m. Though the rain subsided after a couple of hours it was still drizzling at the time of writing this story. Ankle-deep water flooded all streets from Mina to Makkah and threw traffic off gear.
Vehicles were stranded in the waterlogged streets. Traffic police were seen helping small cars out of the floodwaters. The swirling floodwaters came rushing down the hills and gushed forth into tents sweeping away mattresses and other things lying on the floor. “In some camps, there was total chaos. People were running helter-skelter to escape the torrents,” a pilgrim was quoted as saying by an Arab News photographer.
As the rain force decreased, the streets of Mina were littered with all kinds of trash. Watches and costume jewelry were swept downstream as wayside vendors abandoned their wares and ran for cover when the downpour came.
The ferocity of the downpour caught the pilgrims by surprise but it did not surprise officials at the South Asia Establishment for Pilgrims. One of them said: “We were prepared for the rain as it was forecast. Thankfully, the rain came on the final day of Haj when the pilgrims are in Mina. Had it rained earlier the entire administration machinery would have been thrown out of gear.”
Saudi television showed images of pilgrims under the heavy rain performing the stoning ritual and the mandatory circumambulation of the Kaaba. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were still in Mina without finishing the lapidation ritual. According to convention, these pilgrims who fail to leave Mina before nightfall should stay back for another day to complete their rituals.
Many of the pilgrims were ecstatic at the completion of Haj. Prominent Indian Muslim commentator Ausaf Vasfi said everything went smooth. “The Saudi authorities deserve all praise for an excellent job,” he said. “The security personnel were very polite and cooperative. Yes, they couldn’t speak English but they did all they could to help the pilgrims.”
Vasfi said there is a dire need to use the synergy and energy of Haj to liberate Palestine from the clutches of Israel. “That should be our goal. Haj demonstrates that we can unite and we can similarly unite to get Al-Quds liberated.”
The pilgrims started heading for home on Thursday night.
Pilgrims have lauded the organization of the whole Haj experience. They did, however, say that Haj authorities should focus more on improving transport links and encourage staff to be more helpful. They added that more needs to be done to reduce pollution during the pilgrimage.
Pilgrims also praised the state-of-the-art Mashair Railway, which links the holy sites of Haj and is due to become fully operational next year. “It’s becoming much easier. I’ve been coming here for the past 10 years,” said Haj tour operator Ismaeel Osman from South Africa. “With the rail system, it will become even better. The transport has become much more convenient for the Hajis and it’s not like it used to be.”
He claimed that the rail system is the key to better organization of the pilgrimage. “You see, the walking is causing the chaos, because pilgrims sleep in the streets, especially the trip from Arafat to Muzdalifah. And if you come a little late, then people start fighting over space.”
Mauritian pilgrim Zubeida Sallajee, 48, said she was looking forward to finishing off her rites, which included stoning the devil for the last time before making her way to Makkah.
“I think (the Saudi authorities) are doing a lot (to make the Haj experience as easy as possible). I just have concerns about the cleanliness of toilets in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. Also, the amount of garbage in the roads is unsightly.”
Thirty-year-old British pilgrim Imran Rivat, who is on his first Haj with his wife, described the entire experience as life-changing. “It’s been amazing, it really has, from start to end,” he said. “Everyone tells me that there’s (sic) always improvements going on and I really like the new stoning (of the devil) facilities. It looked like it was going to be chaos, but there were a lot of guards there and it went really well.”
He added that he plans to go to Madinah next week and recover from the rigors of Haj. “On a personal level, I want to bring my son who’s two-years-old. Obviously not for Haj, but probably for Umrah. This is the Kingdom. You hear people refer to the UK as the Kingdom, but nothing compares to Saudi Arabia.”
“The arrangements were excellent and great care was taken to avoid the massing of pilgrims on the Jamrat Bridge which has been a scene of tragedy on numerous occasions in the past. I thank Custodian of the Two Mosques King Abdullah, though ailing, for ensuring the best available services to guests of Allah,” said Shagufta Jumani, Pakistan’s minister of state for religious affairs.
“After stoning the Jamrat, we rushed back to our camps to pick our luggage but then it began raining and we are stuck up in our camps and will leave for Makkah later. But we have no regret. These rains are nothing but the blessing of Allah for us giving us a feeling that our Haj has been accepted,” said Mohammed Salamatullah, an Indian pilgrim.
Many pilgrims are making plans to travel to the holy city of Madinah and pray at the Prophet’s Mosque, while others are getting ready to go home.
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