Muslim: Millions of Hajj pilgrims pack for the journey

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 14: The Ministry of the Hajj in Saudi Arabia declares that the start of the Hajj is November 14 this year and the Eid al-Adha, the climactic Festival of Sacrifice within the Hajj, will fall on November 16. (Dating Muslim observances depends on lunar cycles, so times can vary but Saudi headquarters, as of November 7, lists November 14 as the official beginning this year.)

As of Sunday: More than 2 million pilgrims had arrived as the major Hajj rituals were about to begin.

ON MONDAY: Read about the Day of Arafat, one of the most stirring of experiences during the Hajj, sometimes compared to Yom Kippur.

MORE THAN 4,000 MILES BY BIKE! Every Hajj there are amazing stories from the pilgrim road. One remarkable accomplishment this year is the more-than-4,000-mile journey by bike, completed by two friends from Cape Town, South Africa. Here’s an English-language version of the news story about their journey.

New Safety Precaution at Jamarat Bridge: The complex, multi-tiered structure that includes the Jamarat Bridge always is a point of major congestion during the Hajj. Saudi officials have announced that, this year, they are adding 124 electric carts, each capable of holding 14 people, to help move elderly and disabled people more safely around the Jamarat Bridge area. Sometimes, 1 million people are clustered in this area. As recently as 2006, a stampede there killed hundreds of pilgrims and injured many others.

Hajj Numbers Growing Each Year

Official Saudi crowd estimates, over the years, show a gradual increase in pilgrims over the past decade—and a sharp increase in the last couple of years. In 2010, the numbers are expected to soar again this year. Saudi officials have reported on various upgrades to facilities for these millions of visitors, including hundreds of new cell-phone towers to improve telephone reception this year. If you know a Muslim pilgrim, it’s possible you’ll get a call or text or photo from the heart of the Hajj this year. Watch your phone!

Smoke-Free Hajj Is a Challenging Goal

Anyone who has traveled widely around the world—especially in the Muslim world—knows that the goal of achieving a completely smoke-free Hajj is challenging, to say the least. Hajj authorities report this year that they’re determined “to make the two holy cities among those with the lowest tobacco consumption in the world.” The Saudi Ministry of Health reports that it has “intensified its campaign to make the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina completely tobacco-free. … The sale of tobacco is strictly banned in the five-kilometer radius of the Holy Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. Billboards and posters with anti-smoking messages, information regarding anti-smoking clinics and fatwas on the subject are on display in the two cities. Buses carrying pilgrims have anti-smoking posters on them, and folders containing pamphlets, flyers, postcards and stickers will also be handed to pilgrims.”

Enjoy One Muslim Pilgrim’s Story of the Hajj

ReadTheSpirit has been reporting on world religions for several years and among our most popular stories is this account by Muslim pilgrim Victor Begg about the Hajj from a personal perspective. Victor’s story continues to draw readers—and we expect it will be a popular page again this year. In reading his account, even non-Muslims can appreciate the spiritual challenges and wonders in the Hajj.

Got a story to share? If you’re going on the Hajj, or you’ve made the pilgrimage in past years, share your thoughts about this annual, worldwide journey of the faithful. Email us at [email protected]

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