Published: Nov 5, 2011 01:08 Updated: Nov 5, 2011 01:08

MINA, Nov. 4, 2011

Haj 2011 has begun on a bright note with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, including men, women and children, converging on this tent city with prayers and talbiyah on their lips and Qur’anic verses in their hearts. As the blazing sun set behind the nearby hillocks on Friday, there was a pleasant breeze blowing across the Mina valley, sending a spiritual thrill among the pilgrims.


Mina is a small city and as far as the eye can see, tents cover every open space. They have been neatly arranged, row after row. The entrances to many of the tents are decorated with banners and garlands, balloons fly over others, helping pilgrims to identify their temporary residences in the sea of white fabric.


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 Dul Hijjah 8. Their joy is unequaled. 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. Tomorrow on the plains of Arafat they will bare their hearts before Almighty Allah and beseech Him to forgive them and bless them with their greatest desires.


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. All the pilgrims will be praying for peace and for good sense to prevail.


Arriving in Mina on Friday, we were immediately greeted by the Indian and Pakistani flags flying together on the many bridges connecting one end of the valley with the other. The flags had been hoisted to show Indian and Pakistani pilgrims the areas where their camps were located. It puts out the message that though the two countries may have been separated at birth in 1947, here in Mina they are united. For the peace-pushers, the symbolism cannot be missed. It was a pleasure to watch the green of the Pakistani flag fluttering against the Indian tricolor.


On a different note, the mobile phones are a terrible distraction for the pilgrims. Instead of turning off their telephones most of the time and only turning them on for an hour or two at night, the pilgrims leave their phones on constantly. During prayers at Masjid Al-Qaif handsets were ringing throughout. This made it impossible to concentrate on the sermon.


Thanks to all the modern means of transport and excellent road, rail and air network, it was a cakewalk for thousands of pilgrims streaming into the tent city. In the past, however, the journey to the two holy cities was full of adventure, pitfalls and even at times danger. There were no airplanes landing at the Haj Terminal in Jeddah. Traveling the long distance to the holy cities usually meant being part of a caravan. According to one writer, there were three main caravans for pilgrims, including the Egyptian caravan originating in Cairo, the Iraqi one from Baghdad and the Syrian one which, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, originated in that city — modern Istanbul — and collected pilgrims along the way and then proceeded to Makkah from Damascus.

“As the journey took months if all went well,” the writer notes, “the pilgrims carried with them the provisions they needed to sustain them on their trip. The caravans were elaborately supplied with amenities and security if the persons traveling were rich, but the poor often ran out of provisions and had to interrupt their journey in order to work, save their earnings and then go on their way. This resulted in long journeys which, in some cases, spanned 10 years or more.”

As for our Arab News team, it reached Mina from Jeddah in less than two hours. That should also give our readers a good perspective.

Categories: Asia, Islam, Saudi Arabia

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