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MINA, Saudi Arabia, June 26, (Agencies): Some 2 million Muslim pilgrims officially began the annual Hajj pilgrimage on Monday, making their way out of Makkah after circling Islam’s holiest site, the Ka’aba, and converging on a vast tent camp in the nearby desert for a day and night of prayer. One of the largest religious gatherings in the world has returned to full capacity this year for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic three years ago. The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and fi- nancially able to do it. For pilgrims, it is a deeply moving spiritual experience that absolves sins, brings them closer to God and unites the world’s more than 1.8 billion Muslims. Some spend years saving up money and waiting for a permit to embark on the journey.
The rituals during Hajj largely commemorate the Holy Quran’s accounts of Ibrahim, his son Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hagar. Pilgrims have been doing the ritual circuit around the Ka’aba since arriving in Makkah over recent days. As the last ones performed it Monday, the pilgrims made their way by foot or by bus to Mina, where they will camp in one of the largest tent cities in the world. They will pray throughout the day and night before traveling on Tuesday to Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is said to have delivered his final sermon.
Mina is vast and open, with little respite from the desert heat and blazing sun. Soldiers sprayed pilgrims with water to cool them down. Egyptian businessman Yehya Al-Ghanam said he was at a loss for words to describe his feelings upon arriving at Mina. “Tears will fall from my eyes out of joy and happiness,” he said. “I do not sleep. I have not slept for 15 days, only an hour a day,” overwhelmed by the magnitude of the emotions surrounding his pilgrimage. After Arafat, pilgrims collect pebbles from a site known as Muzdalifa to be used in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.
The final three days of the Hajj coincide with the festive Eid Al-Adha holiday, when Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor. Meanwhile in Kuwait, the Amiri Diwan on Monday relayed Eid Al-Adha greetings from His Highness the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to Kuwait’s citizens and residents, wishing them happy Eid amid amity, security and safety.
The Amiri Diwan seized this blessed opportunity to convey greetings to His Highness the Amir, His Highness the Crown Prince and His Highness the Prime Minister on the occasion of the Muslim festival. His Highness the Amir also wished both Arab and Muslim worlds blessed Eid, security and stability, praying to Allah Almighty to protect Kuwait and its people from all evils and to grant them security and safety under the nation’s wise leadership. Straw hats, cross-body bags, and collapsible chairs: These are just some of the essentials Muslims bring to the Hajj pilgrimage. Spiritually, the five-day Hajj is awe-inspiring for the faithful, an experience they say brings them closer to God and to the entire Muslim world. Physically, it’s grueling. Pilgrims walk outdoors for hours in broiling heat around holy sites in Makkah and the surrounding desert.
They are caught in unimaginable and overwhelming crowds, all trying to get to the same place. Barriers directing the traffic mean that if you miss your turn, you might walk hours more to get where you want to be. So the more than 2 million pilgrims don’t just learn the complicated rules of how to properly perform the rituals, which began Monday. They also pick up helpful hints and tricks of the trade to get by, learned from other hajjis – as those who have completed the pilgrimage are known. Here’s a look at what they say is essential gear. Dress for the heat, since daytime temperatures regularly soar past 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The majority of rituals take place outdoors in the desert, including climbing the Mount of Mercy and stoning the Jamarat, a row of pillars representing the devil.
Sun hats are key. Pilgrims often opt for wide-brimmed straw hats or even cowboy hats. Umbrellas of every color are everywhere. Some balance their prayer mats on their heads or the canopies from umbrellas. All men are required to wear simple white robes without any stitching, a rule aimed at uniting rich and poor. Women must forego beauty products and cover their hair but have more latitude to wear fabrics from their native countries, resulting in a colorful display of Islam’s multiculturalism. When it comes to footwear, it’s best to wear something that’s durable for the long walks but that also slips on and off easily, as pilgrims must remove their shoes before entering Makkah’s Grand Mosque. Sandals are sensible, but some pilgrims say it’s best also to wear socks as the mosque’s marble floor can be surprisingly cold as they walk around the Ka’aba seven times. A daypack of some kind is essential for carrying food, water, sunscreen and other sundries. But backpacks can be a hassle when you’re crammed shoulder-to-shoulder.
Far more popular are cross-body bags that you can access without turning around. Many pilgrims also carry a separate drawstring bag or pouch for their shoes. Usually at mosques, you can leave your shoes with an attendant at the entrance, but with hundreds of thousands at the Grand Mosque, that’s a sure way to lose your shoes, or at best waste a long time getting them back. It would also mean you have to exit the same way you entered, not always possible when the crowd takes you in another direction. Umaima Hafez, a five-time hajjah from Egypt, packs like a pro. Sitting on her portable plastic stool, she reaches into her large pack and pulls out a blanket, homemade granola and crackers, a travel towel that she wets and places on her head when it gets hot, an extra-thick prayer mat – for her knees – and some medications. The stool fits into the bag as well. She’ll carry it throughout Hajj, then leave it behind for someone else to use. She insists her bag isn’t heavy. “Everything is beautiful and easy with God. … And people give out a lot of water and food here.”
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