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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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Zaidong, the ambassador, said China will fully back Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations.

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Reaffirming on Thursday that China will provide Pakistan with unwavering support in its fight against terrorism is Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Jiang Zaidong.

In an interview that was broadcast on television, the ambassador promised to cooperate with Pakistan and said that China will protect the interests and safety of the citizens of the two friendly nations.

Zaidong underscored that efforts to undermine the two nations’ bilateral relationship would be thwarted by China’s cooperation with Pakistan.

Also, he emphasized how crucial China-Pakistan relations have become strategically given the changing nature of the world.

In highlighting the transformative impact of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the ambassador reaffirmed his nation’s commitment to seeing it through.

In addition to creating thousands of employment, he said, “the CPEC has facilitated significant advancements in power generation and transportation infrastructure with over $25 billion in direct investments and substantial infrastructure development.”

Zaidong stressed the value of sharing ideas and knowledge between Pakistan and China, acknowledging their shared security objectives.

Stressing that both countries have a common future, he envisioned their partnership having a greater social impact.

Concerning the terrorist attack on Chinese nationals [working on the Dasu dam], the ambassador expressed gratitude to the Pakistani people for their condolences and sympathy and commended the government for its prompt action.

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Mild rain in Lahore improves the weather

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Early on Friday, light rain in the province capital Lahore and its surrounding areas improved the weather.

But rain also led to power outages in several areas of Lahore, as multiple feeders of the Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO) blew, leaving whole sections of the city without power.

Details show that rain was observed in a number of locations throughout the city, including Model Town, Gulberg, Garden Town, Mall Road, Lakshmi Chowk, Gulshan Ravi, Jail Road, and Sanda.

However, the Met Office has forecasted an additional day of rain for the city during the next 24.

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The government will begin coordinated action against lawbreakers in the Katcha region

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On Friday, Mohsin Naqvi, the interior minister, announced that the government would begin a coordinated operation in the Katcha region to eradicate the miscreants for good.

He stated that collaborative efforts in the Katcha region will make use of contemporary technologies, including drones.

According to Mohsin Naqvi, all security agencies, including the police, should make sure that SOPs are fully implemented in order to protect Chinese nationals living in Pakistan.

He declared that any carelessness in this respect will not be accepted at all while presiding over a meeting to review the National Action Plan’s implementation at NACTA headquarters in Islamabad.

According to Naqvi, failure to follow the SOPs for the safety of foreign nationals will result in severe disciplinary action.

“We have to outfit our departments with cutting-edge technology to eradicate terrorism,” stated the interior minister. He declared that the provinces will receive all the assistance from the federation in this area.

Anti-state forces will be permanently driven out of the Katcha region, according to Naqvi. The interior minister expressed satisfaction with the anti-smuggling operations and stated that all ministries need to make sure that smugglers face stern legal action.

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