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Pilgrims assemble in Mina as Haj begins
Makkah, 3rd March 2001

An estimated two million pilgrims including more than 1.5 million from abroad will assemble in Mina, a tent city some 12 kilometers east of Makkah, today on the first day of the holy pilgrimage.

Chanting Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik (O Lord, here I am answering Your call), thousands of pilgrims yesterday made their way to Mina to spend the Yaum Al-Tarwiya, following in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The Grand Mosque in Makkah was overflowing with the faithful yesterday as about two million Muslims thronged Islam’s holiest shrine to attend the Friday prayers and perform Umrah on the eve of Haj. Men and women of all ages, races, color and background thronged the Haram Mosque at noon to listen to an emotional speech by Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, the imam and khateeb of the mosque, who appealed for support to the Palestinian intifada (uprising) against Israeli occupation. “In the name of all pilgrims, we appeal to decision-makers of the world to end the bloodletting in Muslim Palestine and support the blessed intifada,” he said. Holding back tears, he said he hoped the day would come soon when Islam’s third holiest shrine, Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, would be freed from “the hands of the Zionist gang”.

Sudais urged pilgrims to refrain from any activity that would mar the sanctity of Haj, and called on Muslims to unite under the banner of Islam. “The Muslim nation witnessing these blessed days should work earnestly to solve the crises facing them. Isn’t it time that we learned the lessons of Haj in unity?” he said. Worshipers crowded the mosque, its vicinity and the roads leading to it, and lined up in rows around the Holy Ka’aba.

A number of Muslim leaders including Pakistan’s Chief Executive Pervez Musharraf, Indonesia’s President Abdurrahman Wahid and Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina Wajed are taking part in this year’s Haj, the largest annual congregation of Muslims.

“It’s a spiritual experience that takes us away from the rush-hour traffic to a life of meditation, prayer and supplication,” said one member of the delegation of American Muslims.

“It is great to be among so many brothers and sisters from all over the world,” said Jamal, a Nigerian, as he placed his prayer mat on a road 200 meters from the mosque.

Saudi authorities, who have the daunting task of ensuring the safety of the guests of God, are working hard for a trouble-free Haj for the third year in a row. A blaze in 1997 killed 343 pilgrims, and in 1998 up to 119 people died in a stampede. Saudi Arabia has spent nearly $200 million over the past year alone as part of a long-term plan to improve safety. It has installed more fireproof tents and firefighting equipment. More than 10,000 medical personnel have been deployed in hospitals and clinics in and around Makkah.

Source: Arab News

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03 March 2001 12:03:33 PM

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