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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1920

The Hajj: concluding remarks

Dr. A.R.M, Imtiyaz

Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims circled the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site, for a final time today in Mecca, bringing to a close what may have been the largest hajj ever.

Several thousand faithful remained behind in Mina, some 5 kilometers east of Mecca, to stone pillars representing Satan for a fourth and final day.

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, passed this year without the deadly incidents that have marred it in the past. Many pilgrims admired new safety measures taken by Saudi authorities since a stampede in 2006 killed more than 360 pilgrims during the stoning ritual.

After last year's tragedy, a larger platform was erected for the pilgrims to use as they performed the ritual. Authorities estimated that up to 3 million pilgrims may have participated in this year's hajj, around half of them from outside the kingdom. All able-bodied Muslims are expected to undertake the hajj once in a lifetime if they have the means.

Thousands of Muslims have circled the holy Kaaba stone before bidding farewell to Mecca while others stoned pillars representing Satan in nearby Mina as the hajj pilgrimage drew to a close.Thousands of Muslims have circled the holy Kaaba stone before bidding farewell to Mecca while others stoned pillars representing Satan in nearby Mina as the hajj pilgrimage drew to a close.

Government institutions in Saudi Arabia responsible for annual Hajj say the Hajj, which has drawn to a close, has been a success. In comments reported in Saudi media, Prince Nayef, the kingdom's interior minister praised the nation's security services. He said they performed well in protecting more than 3 million pilgrims during the grueling five-day pilgrimage around the holy city, Mecca.

As the Hajj drew to a close, pilgrims circled the Kabba, Islam's holiest site, for the last time before preparing to leave the Kingdom. The Saudi Press Agency reported that no cases of heat exhaustion were reported among the pilgrims. It said nearly 600 worshippers died from disease or old age. Last year, more than 300 pilgrims were crushed to death in a stampede during a devil stoning ritual at the Hajj. The Kingdom spent more than $1 billion on renovations and safety measures for the pilgrims.

Saudi authorities congratulated themselves that the hajj rites had passed off without incident despite a surge of pilgrims at the bridge today in the rush to finish and leave.

Muslim pilgrims leave their tents to throw stones at three pillars representing the Satan on the third and last day of Eid al-Adha in Mina. Thousands of Muslims have circled the holy Kaaba stone before bidding farewell to Mecca while others stoned pillars representing Satan in nearby Mina as the hajj pilgrimage drew to a closeMuslim pilgrims leave their tents to throw stones at three pillars representing the Satan on the third and last day of Eid al-Adha in Mina. Thousands of Muslims have circled the holy Kaaba stone before bidding farewell to Mecca while others stoned pillars representing Satan in nearby Mina as the hajj pilgrimage drew to a close

"There have been no security violations at all at the Jamarat area," Interior Minister Prince Nayef told reporters, praising Saudi clerics for offering pilgrims clear advice to pace the stoning throughout the day.

Hardliners of Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi school of Islam often insist stoning should take place in the afternoon to emulate, to the word, what they say was the practice of Prophet Mohammad.

It was on the final day of the last hajj that 362 pilgrims were crushed to death during the stone-throwing ritual in the worst hajj tragedy in 16 years. Another such incident would have been an embarrassment for Saudi Arabia.

New construction work completed in recent months allows 250,000 pilgrims to pass over the Jamarat Bridge each hour. Saudi authorities were also bolder than normal in removing pilgrim squatters who set up makeshift tents in the area.

Saudi Arabia regularly deploys more than 50,000 security men to safeguard hajj against militants and try to prevent disasters. The five-day rites were overshadowed by the hanging on Saturday of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a hero to some Sunni Arabs over his anti-US stances, but hated by many Shias.

Saudi Arabia criticized Iraq for despoiling the spirit of the hajj, one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion that is a duty for able-bodied Muslims with the means.

The execution also raised fears of clashes at the hajj, where police have used force to put down protests in the past. Security was already tight during this pilgrimage season — with apparent record numbers — because of sectarian strife between Sunni and Shias Muslims in Iraq and Lebanon.

Saudi officials say 2.4 million pilgrims are officially on the hajj. But with hundreds of thousands of residents and expatriates sneaking into Mecca without official permits, the total number could be closer to a record three million. Pilgrims, mostly on foot, cover a 44-km route around Mecca during the grueling rites, as well as walk about 15 km in at least three visits to the city's vast mosque complex.

It is true that Hajj concluded peacefully and filled the Muslims both pilgrimages and rest with spirit and brotherhood. But a billion dollar question is will Muslims make use of gains they made during the holy Hajj to build a peaceful and equitable life order that balances basic nature of both this world and beyond? Will they practice unity they demonstrated during the Hajj, to meet the challenges, while preserving ethnic and cultural differences? Will they represent tolerance and give space for respect and diversity as they strictly followed during the Hajj? How much resistance those Muslims show to defeat ill-practices coming against the values of Hajj?

These questions may sound harder to answer, but human communities often progress when they have will to perform. To this- they need not only spiritual wisdom but also strong and functional leadership. May Almighty God (Allah) guide us with the right knowledge and give all of us- whether they are Muslims or otherwise, needed equality, prosperity and peace.

Dr. A.R.M, Imtiyaz is a political scientist from Sri Lanka, currently doing research on Arab political movements and ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka at the department of political science, Temple University, USA.

- Asian Tribune -

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