the hajj walk on flooded streets during heavy rains in Mecca, Saudi
Arabia, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009.
Millions of pilgrims spent the first day of this year’s Haj - Yaum
Al-Tarwiyah in prayers in Mina on Wednesday as rains soaked the
faithful and flooded roads snarling traffic.
Security forces and
other government agencies were striving to clear the mess caused by
the rains and guarantee a safe and peaceful stay for the pilgrims in
The pilgrims will converge today on Mount Arafat
marking the climax of this year’s Haj.
Pilgrims in white robes holding
umbrellas circled the black cube-shaped Holy Kaaba in Makkah, the opening
rite for the hajj.
Makkah and the nearby Red Sea coastal
city of Jeddah often see heavy rains during the winter months, and
Wednesday's were not unusually strong for the season. But they were
the heaviest in years to coincide with the four-day hajj, and they
could exacerbate its perennial dangers.
The day started ominously as dark
clouds gathered over the mountainous landscape surrounding the holy
sites. However, this did not deter the pilgrims as they made their
way to their white tents in Mina.
In a tunnel leading to Mina and the
Jamrat Bridge, 29-year-old security guard Mohammed Rashed said he
was confident that all necessary resources were in place to tackle
natural disasters such as heavy storms.
Pilgrims attending the hajj shelter
from heavy rains in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Nov. 25,
2009. The heaviest rainstorms to hit annual hajj in years soaked
pilgrims and flooded the road into Mecca, snarling traffic as
millions of Muslims headed for the holy sites and added an extra
hazard on top of intense concerns about the spread of swine flu.
“There is no problem. We will have
more security forces and Civil Defense personnel to help us just in
case,” he said as it started drizzling.
Other places were more badly hit.
Unable to start, vehicles were left half-submerged in the Bahra and
Muzha areas as well as the Jawasat checkpoint that leads into Makkah.
Key routes between Makkah and Mina were closed down.
When it became apparent that emergency
services and Civil Defense forces were unable to cope with the
situation, stranded pilgrims began wading through the water and
across busy highways as they began to make their way to the holy
Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal,
who is also chairman of the Central Haj Committee, said in a press
statement in Mina that all pilgrims arrived in Mina and spent the
day safely despite the heavy rains in Makkah and holy sites.
“There are a number of projects of
canals and dams to guarantee the safety of pilgrims from rains and
floods in Arafat and Mina,” Prince Khaled said.
The rites — a lifetime dream for
Muslims, who come to cleanse their sins — are always a logistical
nightmare, as a population the size of a small city moves between
Makkah and holy sites in the nearby desert over the course of four
days. However, the unprecedented arrangements by the Saudi
government makes everything smooth for millions of Hajis who come
from all across the globe.
This year has brought the added worry
that the massing of more than 3 million people from around the world
could bring a Swine Flu outbreak. Expectations were rife that due to
the fear of Swine Flu and H1N1 virus number of Hajjis this year will
decline. However, nothing as such happened as more than three millions
thronged the holy city of Makkah for the Hajj rituals that began yesterday.
The Hajis refused to let the wet
weather dampen their spirits and despite heavy rains
they are heading towards Mount Arafat - the most important ritual of
Hajj chanting Labbayk Allahumma Labbayk.
“Today’s rain caused us trouble but
still it was a good omen. The Haj started with Allah showering his
blessings on us,” said pilgrim Sharique Arfin Shamsi.