By Arab News
P.K. Abdul Ghafour
Saudi authorities stepped up preparations for the five-day annual Haj pilgrimage — which begins tomorrow — by mobilizing human and material resources.
More than three million pilgrims, including two million from abroad, are expected to take part in the spiritual event.
Groups of pilgrims have started the move from Madinah and other parts of the Kingdom to Makkah and Mina, chanting Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik (O God, here I am answering your call).
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who is supervising Haj operation from Jeddah, instructed all related government departments to provide the necessary services to the guests of God.
Khaled Mirghalani, Health Ministry spokesman, said: “The ministry has readied 25 hospitals with a capacity of 5,200 beds in addition to the 141 health clinics situated in the holy sites, to serve pilgrims.” More than 175 ambulances are on stand by,” he added. The Saudi Red Crescent Authority plays an important role during Haj, providing first-aid and transportation services to hospitals. It will deploy 1,060 volunteers in Makkah, Mina and other holy sites.
The Civil Defense yesterday conducted a mock operation to control gas leakage near the Jamrat Bridge in Mina, where a large number of pilgrims assemble during the peak days of Haj for the stoning-the-Satan ritual.
Lt. Col. Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, commander of the Civil Defense’s special intervention force, said: “The operation was aimed at keeping our forces at a high level of readiness to deal with possible leakage of poisonous gases.”
Foreign pilgrims have expressed their joy over getting the opportunity to perform Haj, the fifth pillar of Islam. “It’s my first time in Makkah for pilgrimage. I can’t wait to pray in Arafat,” said 32-year-old Koara Abdulrahman, a businessman from Burkina Faso. Inside the Grand Mosque, scores of pilgrims circumambulated the Holy Kaaba with many pushing their way through the crowds to kiss Hajar Al-Aswad (the Black Stone) on a corner of the cube-shaped structure.
“Right now, I’ve got all the good feelings you can think of,” said an ecstatic Iranian pilgrim.
More than 1,400 Muslim leaders from around the world are performing Haj this year as guests of King Abdullah. They come from China, Russia, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Togo, Botswana, Burundi and Liberia.
Heavy rains hit Makkah and Mina on Sunday, and the Civil Defense said 13 people were slightly injured when a fire erupted in a building housing Indian and Myanmarese pilgrims.
Despite being marred by deadly incidents in the past such as floods, stampedes and fires, Haj has become nearly incident-free in recent years, thanks to multibillion-dollar projects implemented by the government annually.
This year, new development projects totaling SR 1.5 billion include an initiative to help pilgrims reach the Jamrat Bridge quickly from Makkah, Aziziya and Shaabain. The Ministry of Water and Electricity said it has started supplying 600,000 cubic meters of water daily to the holy sites. There are 36 water tanks in Makkah and 27 at the holy sites with a total capacity of 2.5 million cubic meters.
In other news, participants of a seminar organized by the Haj Ministry called for the use of social media networks to enhance Haj awareness for pilgrims. Najah Al-Qublan of Princess Norah University said: “We have to make use of social media effectively for creating Haj awareness and spreading the message of Islam.” Facebook users in the Arab world increased from 29.8 million in 2011 to 45.2 million by June 2012, she said.