MAKKAH – Just two days before the official start of Haj, around 1 million faithful performed Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque as the imam who officiated called for a peaceful and quiet Haj.
Sheikh Saleh bin Mohammed Al-Taleb also called on Muslims to unite and end disputes.
Authorities stepped up preparations as police closed most entrances to the Grand Mosque to vehicles, turning traffic in the area around the site into a menacing experience.
“I am very excited and extremely happy. I feel I am a very lucky person that I am performing Haj,” said Hamza Suleiman, a 56-year-old civil servant from Malaysia.
“I registered for Haj 10 years ago and my turn came this year. I really want to come here every year,” he told AFP in the Grand Mosque courtyard.
Egyptian businessman Ahmad Al-Bahrawi, who is performing Haj for the sixth time, accompanied by his wife, said: “it’s an entirely different feeling that cannot be described when I enter the Grand Mosque and look at the Kaaba.” The pilgrimage starts on Sunday and ends on Oct. 18.
Mohammed Shuaib wears a mask as he walks amid a flood of the faithful, but his wariness about the deadly MERS virus that has struck Saudi Arabia doesn’t seem to be widely shared. “Prevention is better than cure,” said the 67-year-old Algerian pensioner as he removed his mask to speak to AFP after performing noon prayers. But the overwhelming majority of those around him have no masks, and some said they never even heard of the MERS coronavirus. “We heard that the coronavirus is deadly and people in this case should protect themselves,” said Shuaib, accompanied by his nephew, who also wore a mask.
Most of the pilgrims interviewed seemed unmoved over the disease and were not wearing masks. “We depend on God,” said middle-aged Ahmad Mahmoud from Egypt.
More than 1.3 million transported to holy sites
Meanwhile about 1.325 million pilgrims were transported to the holy sites on Friday, according to the General Car Syndicate (Naqaba).
The ascending (taseed) and descending (nafra) committee had completed preparations to execute the plan for pilgrims moving to holy sites following instructions of Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar.
Pilgrims ascend to Mina as per a plan that guarantees all pilgrims who want to spend the night there are able to do so easily and without delays. The buses transporting them are provided with guides who will deliver the pilgrims to their camps.
Marwan Zubaidi, the syndicate’s secretary-general and spokesman, said the shuttle bus service covers 563,000 pilgrims from Turkey, Europe, southeastern Asia, non-Arab Africa and Iran. The regular bus service serves South Asian and Arab pilgrims that number 750,000. About 500 buses are stationed in Arafat to assist in case of delays.