x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Pilgrims settle in on Haj's third day

A challenging start to this year's Haj that saw four pilgrims die from swine flu and 83 people killed by floods.

JEDDAH/ Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims completed the third day of the five-day Haj yesterday, pelting pillars that represent the devil with stones to demonstrate their rejection of evil, as Muslims all over the world marked Eid al Adha with mass animal sacrifices. After throwing pebbles, many pilgrims were also taking advantage of dozens of barbers around Mina to shave their heads as part of their purification, at 10 riyals (Dh10) per person.

His head freshly shaven, the Jordanian Nabil Nobany said: "We have finished the most important steps in Haj. Early in the morning we went to the Grand Mosque in Mecca and walked around the Kaaba seven times." It followed a challenging start to this year's Haj that saw four pilgrims die from swine flu and 83 people killed by floods, as well as an exchange of barbs between Saudi Arabia and Iran over unrest in Yemen and Iran's questioning of the treatment of pilgrims.

Meanwhile in Jeddah, the gateway to Mecca, land and air rescue operations continued to pull hundreds of victims out from areas affected by flooding in the southern part of the city. Rainfall last week, the heaviest in years, triggered flooding that wiped out bridges and streets in Mecca province, stranding pilgrims on Wednesday and killing at least 83 people in cities of Jeddah and Rabigh, none of whom were pilgrims.

The governor of Mecca province and the president of the Central Haj Committee, Prince Khalid al Faisal, announced yesterday in a statement carried by state news agency SPA that pilgrims were now safely settled in Mina where they will spend the next two days completing their rituals. There have been no deaths of pilgrims from either flooding or swine flu - which had infected 57 pilgrims by Friday - since Wednesday, said the health minister, Abdullah al Rabeah, in a statement carried by Al Watan daily. Mr al Rabeah said the 57 pilgrims who contracted swine flu were mostly elderly and already suffering from chronic illnesses, but all are stable.

More than 2.5 million Muslims are believed to have made the pilgrimage to Mecca this year, despite the dangers of flooding and swine flu. Also a cause of concern were Iran's perceived attempts to disturb the Haj by expressing doubt as to how well Saudi Arabia would treat pilgrims. The Imam of the Holy Mosque in Mecca, Abdul Rahman al Sudais, warned pilgrims in a sermon yesterday that Iran was attempting to politicise the Haj along sectarian lines and in light of current Shiite-Sunni tensions, particularly in Yemen.

The holy cities of Mecca, Mina, and Arafat - where Haj rituals take place - witnessed light rain yesterday, in contrast to Jeddah where local authorities were trying to provide shelter and financial aid to scores of families who lost their homes in the floods. The ministry of interior's civil defence department estimates that at least 150 families lost their homes in the floods. The department said yesterday 193 people had been saved in the previous two days from floods through air rescue operations, including 29 pilgrims who were on their way to Mecca.

For the millions who did make it to Mecca, they will continue stoning the three pillars in the Jamarat area in Mina that symbolise the devil until tomorrow, the last day of Haj. @Email:wmahdi@thenational.ae