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In pictures: Overseas Hajj pilgrims rejoice after two-year COVID-19 absence

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Saudi Arabia announced in April that one million Muslims, including 850,000 from abroad, would be able to perform Hajj this year.

MECCA: Of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims arriving in Mecca this week for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, perhaps none had a more arduous journey than Adam Mohammed, a 53-year-old electrical engineer from the United Kingdom.

Mohammed, who is of Iraqi-Kurdish origin, decided last year to travel on foot to Saudi Arabia, a journey of more than 7,000 kilometres (4,350 miles) that took him through nine countries before he crossed over from Jordan into the northwestern Saudi town of Tabuk.

Muslim pilgrims arrive outside the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca on July 5. — AFP
Muslim pilgrims arrive outside the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca on July 5. — AFP

The trip was made all the more dramatic by the fact that when he started his trek 11 months ago, pushing a cart in front of him that contained his food and other supplies, he had no idea whether he would be able to access the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina.

It was only in April that Saudi Arabia, which barred overseas pilgrims in 2020 and 2021 as part of efforts to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic, announced that one million Muslims, including 850,000 from abroad, would be able to participate this year.

A Muslim pilgrim arrives outside the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca on July. — AFP
A Muslim pilgrim arrives outside the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca on July. — AFP

Now safely in Mecca, some 15 kilograms (33 pounds) lighter than when he started, Mohammed has no regrets.

“I cried when I first arrived. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he told AFP.

“My trip was exhausting. I stopped in many places for rest. But I was focused on one thing: I am 53 years old, so what if I spare 11 months on the road to reach the house of God? It’s doable.”

Pilgrims are pictured at Jabal al-Noor ´mountain of light´, overlooking the holy city of Mecc. — AFP
Pilgrims are pictured at Jabal al-Noor ´mountain of light´, overlooking the holy city of Mecc. — AFP

Mohammed said Saudi authorities granted him and his wife and two daughters, who have flown from the UK to the Gulf kingdom, a permit to participate in the hajj, which consists of a series of religious rites completed in Mecca and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.

Most of the other foreigners performing the rite have been selected via a lottery system.

Muslim pilgrims arrive outside the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca on July 5. — AFP
Muslim pilgrims arrive outside the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca on July 5. — AFP

‘It is my dream’

One of the five pillars of Islam, the hajj must be undertaken by all able-bodied Muslims who have the means at least once in their lives.

But pandemic restrictions forced countless would-be pilgrims based outside Saudi Arabia to put their plans on hold.

A female pilgrim prays atop the Jabal al-Noor or ´Mountain of Light. — AFP
A female pilgrim prays atop the Jabal al-Noor or ´Mountain of Light. — AFP

Usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, about 2.5 million people participated in 2019, before the pandemic began.

The following year, foreigners were blocked and the total number of worshippers was capped at 10,000 to stop the hajj from turning into a global super-spreader.

Muslim worshippers perform Isha prayer at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca. — AFP
Muslim worshippers perform Isha prayer at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca. — AFP

That figure rose to 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents in 2021.

Hosting the hajj is a matter of prestige and a powerful source of legitimacy for Saudi rulers.

Muslim worshippers pray around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca. — AFP
Muslim worshippers pray around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca. — AFP

The ban on overseas pilgrims caused deep disappointment among Muslims worldwide, who typically save for years to take part.

Though the number is much higher this year, there are still some restrictions: participants must be Muslims aged under 65 who are fully vaccinated and can submit a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of travel.

A Muslim worshipper prays with hands raised towards the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca. — AFP
A Muslim worshipper prays with hands raised towards the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca. — AFP

The hajj officially begins Wednesday, and Mecca is already overrun with worshippers who, like Mohammed, are relieved to have finally reached their destination after long, stressful waits.

A 30-year-old Russian pilgrim who gave her name as Halima said she had been imagining her stay in Mecca for more than a decade.

Muslim worshippers pray around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca. — AFP
Muslim worshippers pray around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca. — AFP

The hajj costs at least $5,000 per person, and Halima said she shared her story with friends to drum up funds for both her and her father to come.

“Yesterday was the first time I saw the Kaaba,” she said, referring to the large black cubic structure at the centre of the Grand Mosque.

Muslim pilgrims pray at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca on July 5, 2022. — AFP
Muslim pilgrims pray at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca on July 5, 2022. — AFP

“It is my dream to be here, and now I am living it.”

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Senate Session: Senate Proceeds With Debate On Important National Issues

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Today, the Senate reconvened in the Parliament House in Islamabad, with Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani presiding.

The House has persisted in debating matters of national significance.

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The conflict between Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has intensified, with a violent altercation taking place on the evenings of February 15 and 16.

A top Jamaat-ul-Ahrar commander known as Qari Ismail or Ziaur Rahman was critically injured in this battle during a lethal attack in the Lala Pul neighborhood of District Loralai.

The confrontation between rival factions Target Killing and Dharo is part of an ongoing battle, other Jamaat-ul-Ahrar members have verified. Originating from the Khyber area of KP, Qari Ismail has been a well-known leader for the last ten years.

These commanders have killed civilians and law enforcement personnel in terrorist assaults in Punjab and Peshawar. Following the killing of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar leader Omar Khalid Khorasani in August 2022, tensions between the group and the TTP arose.

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Perhaps another significant increase in power prices

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The Central Power Purchasing Agency (CPPA) has appealed to NEPRA to raise the price of energy by Rs7.13 per unit starting next month.

The rise will cost customers who are already suffering from inflation an extra Rs66.77 billion if NEPRA approves the demand.

According to the CPPA’s appeal, electricity distribution firms received 7.93 billion units in January 2024.

On February 23, Nepra will consider the petition. Customers who are on Lifeline KE will not be able to use the updated pricing.

In light of the monthly fuel adjustment (MFA), it is relevant to note that on January 31, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) raised the power rate by Rs5.63 per unit.

Following the conclusion of the NEPRA hearing on the Central Power Purchasing Agency’s (CPPA) appeal for a fuel monthly adjustment that will increase the power rate by Rs5.63 per unit for December 2023, the verdict was made public.

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