July 19, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Muslims begin the Hajj against the backdrop of the devastating war between Israel and Hamas

Muslims begin the Hajj against the backdrop of the devastating war between Israel and Hamas

MINNA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — In sweltering temperatures, Muslim pilgrims in the Saudi city of Mecca met in a vast desert camp on Friday, solemnly The start of the annual Hajj journey. Earlier, they cordoned off the cube-shaped Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, the holiest site in Islam.

More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world had already gathered in and around Mecca to perform the Hajj, and the number was still growing as more pilgrims from within Saudi Arabia joined. The authorities expected the number to exceed 2 million this year.

Muslim pilgrims arrive at Mina Tent Camp during the annual Hajj, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

This year’s Hajj comes against the backdrop of… The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza StripWhich pushed the Middle East to the brink of a broader conflict.

Palestinians in Gaza were unable to travel to Mecca this year due to… Rafah crossing closed In May, when Israel expanded its ground attack on the city of Rafah in the southern coastal strip, on the border with Egypt.

Muhammad Rafiq, an Indian pilgrim, said while heading to the tent camp in Mina: “We pray for the Muslims, for our homeland and our people, for the entire Islamic world, and especially for the Palestinian people.”

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip.  (AP Photo/Abdel Karim Hanna)

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Abdel Karim Hanna)

It appears that the Saudi authorities were concerned about possible protests or chants against the war during the Hajj season. They said they would not tolerate the politicization of Hajj.

Colonel Talal Al-Shalhoub, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said in a press conference on Friday, “The Kingdom firmly affirms that it will not allow any attempt to turn the holy sites (in Mecca) into an arena for mass chants.” “The security and safety of the guests of God is a red line.”

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Officials assist 4,200 pilgrims from the occupied West Bank who went to perform the Hajj. The Saudi authorities said that another 1,000 members of the families of Palestinians who were killed or wounded in Gaza also arrived at the invitation of Saudi King Salman. The invitees were already outside Gaza – most of them in Egypt – before the Rafah border crossing was closed.

Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman in the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, who was planning to perform Hajj, said: “We are deprived of Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of wars and destruction.” Performing Hajj this year but was unable to do so.

Hajj was also witnessed this year Syrian pilgrims travel to Mecca Operating direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade. This change is part of the ongoing thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and conflict-stricken Syria. Syrians in rebel-controlled areas used to cross the border into neighboring Türkiye to travel from there to perform the Hajj.

Two blind pilgrims perform the Hajj with the help of their guide outside the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Baraa Anwar)

Two blind pilgrims perform the Hajj with the help of their guide outside the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Baraa Anwar)

Abdul Aziz Al-Ashqar, the Syrian coordinator of the group of pilgrims who left Damascus, said, “This is the normal thing: pilgrims go directly to Hajj from their countries of origin.”

Hajj is one of the five pillars of IslamAll Muslims must do this at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so. It is a moving spiritual experience for pilgrims who believe it forgives sins and brings them closer to God.

Uniting more than two billion Muslims in the world, it is also an opportunity to pray for peace in many Arab and Islamic countries afflicted by conflicts, including Yemen and Sudan, where the ongoing war for more than a year has created The largest displacement crisis in the world.

Pilgrims leave after praying outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after praying outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

For many Muslims, the Hajj is the only major journey they take in their lives. some Spending years saving and waiting to get a permit To perform Hajj when they are in their fifties and sixties, after raising their children.

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The Hajj rituals largely commemorate in the Qur’an the Prophet Abraham, his son the Prophet Ishmael, and Ishmael’s mother Hagar – or Abraham and Ishmael as they are called in the Bible.

Male pilgrims wear the ihram, two unstitched pieces of white cloth resembling a shroud, while women wear conservative, loose-fitting clothing with hijabs and forgo makeup and perfume. Pilgrims have been circling the cubic-shaped Kaaba in the Grand Mosque with seven minarets since their arrival in Mecca in recent days.

The Saudi authorities adopted security restrictions in and around Mecca, setting up checkpoints on the roads leading to the city to prevent those who do not hold Hajj permits from reaching the holy sites.

Lieutenant General Muhammad Al-Bassami, head of the Hajj Security Committee, said that many of those who tried to receive pilgrims without Hajj permits were arrested. Most of them have been expelled from the country, while travel agents face up to six months in prison, the Interior Ministry said.

Tents of Muslim pilgrims fill the Mina Tent Camp as Muslim pilgrims arrive during the annual Hajj, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Tents of Muslim pilgrims fill the Mina Tent Camp as Muslim pilgrims arrive during the annual Hajj, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Colonel Talal Al-Shalhoub, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said in a press conference on Friday that more than 256,000 visitors were not allowed to access the holy sites because they did not have Hajj permits.

Others whose papers were incomplete paid fines to be allowed into Mecca. Mohamed Ramadan, an Egyptian who came to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj with his parents, said he found that the type of visa they obtained did not allow them to enter Mecca. They paid 500 Saudi riyals ($133) each to be able to access the holy sites.

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“We were subjected to bad treatment,” he said while heading to their tent in Mina. “But we forgot everything when we saw the Grand Mosque.”

On Friday, the pilgrims headed to Mina to officially begin the Hajj rituals. They will then move to a day-long vigil on Saturday on Mount Arafat, a desert hill where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his final speech. Able-bodied pilgrims make the journey on foot, while others use bus or train.

The Hajj time of year varies as it is set for five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar.

Most Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little, if any, shade. When summer comes, temperatures can rise to more than 40°C (104°F). The Ministry of Health warned that temperatures in holy sites could reach 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit).

Many pilgrims carried umbrellas to protect from the hot sun, and in Mina, charitable organizations distributed cold water. Cooling stations spray pilgrims with water to cool them down. The believers stayed in their tents, resting and praying together in preparation for the upcoming rituals.

After the warship arrives in Arafat on Saturday, pilgrims will travel a few kilometers to a site known as Muzdalifah, to collect pebbles to be used in stoning the pillars representing Satan in Mina.

The pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with Eid al-Fitr Eid al-Adha holiday, when financially well-off Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute their meat to the poor. After that, they return to Mecca for the final circumambulation.

In recent years, the annual Hajj has returned to its massive size after three years of severe restrictions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. In 2023, more than 1.8 million pilgrims performed the Hajj rituals, approaching the 2019 level in which more than 2.4 million participated.

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Associated Press journalist Wafaa Al-Shurafa in the Gaza Strip contributed to this report.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP cooperation With The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., the AP is solely responsible for this content.