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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rain soaks pilgrims on Muslim hajj in Saudi Arabia

Muslim pilgrims cast stones at a pillar, symbolizing the stoning of Satan, in a ritual called 'Jamarat,' the last rite of the annual hajj, in Mina near the Saudi holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010. The last stage of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the symbolic stoning of the devil, began on Friday. The first day of stoning also marks the start of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice, when Muslims around the world slaughter sheep and cattle in remembrance of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son.

MINA, Saudi Arabia – Rain soaked crowds of Muslim pilgrims and lightning flashed Thursday as they performed some of the final rituals of the annual hajj, stoning symbols of the devil and circling the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site.
Some 2.8 million Muslims from all over the world were participating in the pilgrimage this year, and some were finishing the rites on Thursday, though many would continue for another day.
The pilgrims walked seven times around the Kaaba, a cube-shaped shrine in Mecca, in a "farewell" ritual before leaving. Others were in the desert valley of Mina, several miles away, throwing stones at three walls representing Satan in a symbolic rejection of temptation.
Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims moving around the Kaaba, the black cube seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj in Mecca,Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws 2.5 million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Pilgrims' struggles to navigate the holy sites through the massive crowds that jam roads and streets was made more difficult by rain late Wednesday and Thursday. In Mina, drenched pilgrims took shelter under whatever structures they could find. During the stoning, waves of people move along a giant multi-level bridge that takes them past the three walls so they can throw their stones — and with the rain coming down, the top, exposed level — usually packed — was empty.
Still, for most the rain didn't damped the powerful emotion of the religious experience.
"This makes me a strong Muslim, God is very big and I'm very small. I was like a child asking for help from his mother and father," Seifallah Khan, a 38-year-old from Karachi, Pakistan, said of his feelings as he performed the rites.
Overlooking Mecca : A Muslim pilgrim looks at Mecca from the top of Noor mountain where the Hiraa cave is located (AFP/Mustafa Ozer)
An Egyptian from the Nile Delta, 60-year-old Sayed Mutwalli, said that now that he was retired, he could finally fulfill his dream of performing hajj. But, he added, "age has its limits. There's a lot of difficulties but God gives you strength."
A Muslim pilgrim prays on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010 REUTERS/Mohammed Salem 
Going on hajj is a religious duty for every Muslim capable of performing it. Some faithful save up money their whole lives to make the trip — others repeat it multiple times to relive the feeling of closeness to God they say it brings.
The rites, which began Monday, harken back to Islam's Prophet Muhammad as well as to Abraham, the Biblical patriarch whom Muslims also revere and who they say built the Kaaba. Muslims around the world face the shrine every day while performing prayers.
Farag Khalil, an Egyptian butcher in his 50s, said it was his third time performing the pilgrimage. "I hope from God that for as long as I live I manage to make it to hajj," he said. "Prayers in Mecca are like a 100,000 times (the value) of prayer from any other mosque."
He arrived in the country two weeks before hajj began and planned to stay an extra week to visit nearby sites, including the prophet's mosque in the holy city of Medina.
"Why should I be in a hurry to leave? I wish I could die here," he said. "Everytime I come I regret the time of my life I spent outside of Mecca." By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press

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