By ARAB NEWS TEAM
Published: Nov 14, 2010 23:56 Updated: Nov 15, 2010 00:15
MINA: The valley of Mina, which otherwise remains deserted throughout the year, came alive Sunday as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims poured into the city chanting “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik” (O God, here I am answering Your call). Official estimates have put the number of pilgrims at 2.5 million.
Mina is the first stop for pilgrims on the way to the Plains of Arafat for the Haj climax on Monday.
Once in the city and in their fireproof tents, the pilgrims busied themselves reciting the Holy Qur’an and performing prayers or with efforts to locate relatives. Many tried to catch some sleep after a tiring journey from Jeddah and Makkah. Till late afternoon, pilgrims were still making their way into the holy city.
“Stage one has gone very well for us,” said Muhammad Taj and his wife Fatima from Khartoum, Sudan. “We started after Fajr from Makkah and were here in our camp by 8 a.m.,” said Taj. He said some of the streets were clogged “but our driver knew the best way out.”
According to Taj, finding their location in Mina was not difficult. “Since we speak Arabic and since we had come here three days before to familiarize ourselves, it was quite easy. We knew where we were located beforehand.”
“I’ve heard some scary stories associated with Haj, but I have not encountered them yet. It’s early days however, so you never know. Inshallah, we will find the Haj a very fulfilling experience,” said 55-year-old British pilgrim Nazir Parkar, who was accompanied by close friend Mushtaq Parkar, 49.
“Whenever I need to speak Arabic, I let him (Mushtaq) deal with it.”
“Yes, I can speak my best broken Arabic despite six years working in Kuwait!” added Mushtaq.
Some pilgrims said they were delayed because they had a tough time performing Tawaf Al-Qadum in Makkah’s Grand Mosque before heading to Mina. Ozair Zulfiquar, a Jeddah-based Pakistani expatriate, admitted that the delays were expected. “Such things do happen in this mass movement of people,” he said. “We had a difficult time circumambulating the Holy Kaaba … There were too many people. We had to do it on the Grand Mosque’s first floor.”
Though Zulfiquar looked tired after a long journey, his spirits were high. “I told my wife who came from Pakistan that Haj entails immense hardships. So she was mentally prepared for the onerous task. Now we are under the protection of Allah,” he remarked.
A member of the Indian Haj delegation, Meraj Ahmed, congratulated Saudi Arabia for making exceptional arrangements. “They have done a remarkable job,” he said. Ahmed is a former minister in India’s Uttar Pradesh state. He said Mina has undergone a complete change. “This is not the Mina I visited 10 years ago. It is now the most modern city with most modern facilities. He, however, complained about haphazard arrangement in the Indian pilgrim camps. “Many Indian Hajis came complaining to us about lack of facilities.”
The pilgrims arrive in Mina with mixed feelings of trepidation, joy and reflection. They think of the rituals they must perform so there is trepidation. They count themselves lucky to be in the tent city on the 8th Dul Hijjah. Their joy is unequalled. And the whole exercise reminds them of life gone by, the wrongs they committed and the time they wasted. So it is natural to reflect on the past and pray for inspiration in the future.
On the Plains of Arafat on Monday they will bare their hearts before Almighty Allah and beseech Him to forgive them and bless them. What tops the list of their prayers is often secret, perhaps something that they would admit to no one but God. However, there are some pilgrims who will confide their wishes. It is not surprising that a huge range of requests will be made to God on the Plains of Arafat. Some prayers are for the general good of humanity.
Shahbaz Alam Chaudhry from Lahore, Pakistan, said he would be praying for all those who have lost their lives in natural and man-made tragedies in Pakistan. “We as a country are going through a bad phase. But when we come here we become optimistic. Pakistan was created under exceptional circumstances and we will be praying for its protection. We are confident Allah will answer our prayers,” he said, wiping away his tears.
The great number of pilgrims from Pakistan and India is something that is immediately apparent. “There was a time in the 1970s and 1980s when only a handful of people came to Saudi Arabia for Haj,” said Atif Ansari, a Saudi of Pakistani origin. “The growing number indicates the social and economic progress of South Asian Muslims.”
Scores of policemen directed vehicles as they inched forward bumper to bumper. “Everything is proceeding very well,” a police officer remarked.
— Input from Siraj Wahab, Syed Faisal Ali & Amjad Parkar
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