x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Haj diary: Finding one's place on bustling road to Mina

The way to Mina for the first Haj ritual is crowded with people resting after the journey from Mecca, or wondering where they will spend the night. But as one of the pilgrims says, 'As long as we are guests of the Merciful we are happy.'

Men wearing white sheets crowded the streets, some on foot, some on top of mini-buses, making their way to Mina for the first Haj ritual.

There were people everywhere, the pavements filled with pilgrims resting after the journey from Mecca - or worse, lost and with nowhere to go.

Bayan, 25, a Syrian, was combining her honeymoon with the Haj. But she lost her new husband in the throngs of people making their way from the mountain to the camps.

"He has my card and I don't know the name of my agency," she said.

Bayan walked up and down the road looking for him. Eventually he called to tell her to return up the hill to where they last saw each other.

Sometimes the road seemed like a military camp, with ambulance and police sirens blaring to clear a path.

"Go hajji go, make room hajji, move faster," was often heard in every tent from police loudspeakers.

A Moroccan couple waited for more than an hour in front of the lost pilgrims' office.

"We came as single Haj, not through an agency," said Noor-Aliman Quraishi, 54, a banker.

They had waited for three years for their names to be drawn.

"Every year we had to apply all over again," said his wife Zuhr, 49, a utilities worker who was performing Haj for the first time.

Their independent pilgrimage had not been easy. It took them 12 hours just to register their names and leave Jeddah airport before they could make their way to Mecca to stay with a friend.

They performed Umrah and a few hours later took a bus to Mina, but they had nowhere to stay.

"With this type of Haj they only give you a visa. You have to figure out all the other details," said Mr Quraishi.

"Our ancestors used to come on foot or by camel. The journey took two years and their families wouldn't know if they were dead or alive.

"So imagine if we were to complain about a couple of hours."

His wife added: "Alhamdulillah, as long as we are the guests of the Merciful we are happy."

A family from Libya sat waiting by the side of the road.

"We walked all the way from Aziziya [Mecca]," said the woman who preferred not to give her name. It had taken her more than two years to win the chance to perform Haj.

"I just pray that whoever comes here will have his sins erased. Every time I used to see the Kaaba I used to pray to reach it."

Numbers continued to grow on the hills, bridge and street. Some pitched tents, some prayed and many just walked and walked.

And every five minutes, the police voice on the loudspeaker chided the thousands of pilgrims: "Get up please, it is not allowed to sit on the pavement."