‘Here I am, O Allah, here I am’
MAKKAH – The annual Hajj pilgrimage started in earnest Wednesday, with nearly three million Muslims thronging roads on foot and by bus for a five-day journey of faith most have spent their entire lives waiting for.
The pilgrims, among them some 1.7 million who have travelled from across the world to be in the holy land for the rituals, began leaving Makkah at dawn on Wednesday headed for the holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat.
In the arid valley of Mina, a pit-stop en route to Mount Arafat, pilgrims will spend the night Wednesday in tents, passing the time in prayer and reflection.
Hundreds of thousands of believers in buses, cars and on foot and all of them clad in white shrouds symbolising resurrection chanted in unison as they marched towards Mina: “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik” (“Here I am, O Allah, here I am”).
The teeming millions of Muslim devotees had reached Mina by evening from Makkah, reports said.
The passage to Mina marks the official launch of Hajj on the eighth day of the lunar calendar month of Zil Hajj.
The day is known as Tarwiah (Watering) as pilgrims in the past stopped at Mina to feed their animals and stock up for the following days trip to Mount Arafat.
On Thursday, they will ascend to Mount Arafat, some 10 kilometres southeast of Mina, to spend the day in prayer.
The whole atmosphere in and around the Grand Mosque was charged with piety and religious fervor and the pilgrims, men, women and children, were speaking only one language – the language of the Holy Qur’an. There were tears of joy in their eyes.
“You might be rich and famous, with everything at your beck and call, but unless He gives a call, you cannot perform Haj,” said Zainul Abedeen, from Khartoum, Sudan.
Exasperated, 55-year-old Indonesian pilgrim Laila Soharti said she was “trying to get to Mina before the roads start getting too crowded.”
“We are thrilled to be heading towards God’s most sacred spots on earth,” AFP quoted her as saying.
For Akram Hussein, a 42-year-old Iraqi on his first pilgrimage with his family described the Hajj as “great days in which we must follow in the footsteps of our Prophet (pbuh).”
Syrian pilgrim Mohammed Noor meanwhile said he was “extremely glad God has chosen us from among so many people to perform Hajj this year and we hope he will also aid us in observing the rites correctly.”
The pilgrims will mostly walk or catch a bus for the duration of the journey, though about a quarter of the faithful will travel on the railway.
More than 18 500 buses will also be used to carry pilgrims, while vehicles carrying less than 25 people will not be allowed access into the three holy sites.
On Wednesday, pilgrims were seen scrambling for a seat on the buses, with some deciding to risk riding on the roofs of the vehicles to ensure they don’t get left behind.
Thursday, Arafat Day, is the climax of the Hajj, when pilgrims ascend Mount Arafat, some 10 kilometres southeast of Mina, to spend the day in prayer.
The hilltop and the surrounding plain is where the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) is believed to have delivered his final Hajj sermon before his demise.
After sunset, the pilgrims head to Muzdalifah, between Mina and Arafat, where they collect stones to throw at the devil, one of the last rituals which takes place Friday and marks the first day of Eid al-Azha, the annual feast of sacrifice.
The symbolic “stoning of the devil” is followed by the ritual sacrifice of an animal, usually a lamb.
During the remaining three days of the Hajj, the pilgrims continue the ritual stoning before performing the circumambulation of the Kaaba and heading home.
After the seventh act of going around the most sacred site in Islam, pilgrims travel back and forth between the two hills of al-Safa and al-Marwah seven times to commemorate the wife of Prophet Abraham, Hajars search for water and Allah’s mercy in answering prayers.
The spiritual ceremony will reach its peak on Friday with the Eid al-Azha (Feast of the Sacrifice) holiday.
Eid al-Azha marks Prophet Abrahams decision to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to God.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once. It is the largest act of mass pilgrimage in the world.
Earnest supplication, devotion, tears, and praying for Allahs abundant forgiveness characterize the Hajj pilgrimage.
The holy pilgrimage is also a demonstration of Muslims unity and their submission to Allah.
Despite being marred by deadly incidents in the past, including floods, stampedes and fires, in recent years, the Hajj has passed nearly incident-free.
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