2000 South African hujaaj are assembling at Arafat on Wednesday for the next leg of the annual hajj. Wednesday marks the 9th of Thul Hijjah and the second day of the holy journey, with more than two million pilgrims gathering on the plains of Arafat in the hopes of having all prior sins wiped clear. The day will also reveal whether the hard work and planning of the local haj mission in the Kingdom bears fruition, with the next 24 hours set to mark the biggest single movement of hujaaj throughout the five day pilgrimage.
“Alhamdullilah we don’t have any problems with logistics or people that are stranded out in the heat of the day,” said president of the South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc), Shaheen Essop.
The region has been hit by a heat wave in recent days, with temperatures bordering 45 degrees by Wednesday afternoon. The harsh weather conditions have brought about concerns of the health of pilgrims, with doctors already having to contend with dehydration amongst some of the more elderly hujaaj. While this was creating its own set of logistical challenges, Sahuc’s haj mission has been able to contend well with the issue thus far.
“I think one of the key factors we are going to be facing in upcoming years is a significant heat problem. Exhaustion and dehydration is certainly going to be at the fore of health issues that befall us, but we have an equipped team, with very qualified and dedicated medical personnel and hajj mission workers,” Essop noted.
Challenges have somewhat dissipated however thanks to a reduction in the number of pilgrims undertaking the hajj in recent years, spurred by on-going constructions in the Kingdom. Barr last week’s tragic crane collapse in Makkah that killed 107 pilgrims, there has been little issues pertaining to crowd congestion.
“On Mina and Arafat the information that I have been provided thus far indicates that everything is quite comfortable for our pilgrims and people on this side need not worry too much,” he concluded.
Movement of pilgrims
Sedick Steenkamp, chairperson of the South African Haj Travel Operators Association (Sathoa) said all planning and hard work put in over the past year would culminate in what happened in the Kingdom over the next few days, with operators keen to ensure everything was as comfortable as possible for hujaaj.
“We have in the Kingdom very experienced hajj operators. From Sathoa’s side we have half of our executive committee there coordinating not only their own company matters, but also anything from a Sathoa and industry point of view as well,” he said.
The other half of this ‘executive committee’ were operating within South Africa to also ensure smooth running of the hajj.
Steenkamp said it was vital for operators to ensure all planning and information was shared with hujaaj, ahead of the most important movement of pilgrims.
“The focus is all on today, tonight and tomorrow in terms of moving people from Arafat into Muzdalifah, and in terms of ensuring all the various things that need to be done are in place so that people are comfortable,” he added.
Hujjaj in a positive mood
Speaking from the kingdom, VOC and ITV haj correspondent, Shaykh Abdu-rahmaan Laily said many of the hujaaj who have arrived in Arafat have begun settling into their tents ahead of the events later in the day. He noted that to counter the blazing heat, authorities had activated sprinklers on the walking path to Arafat in order to provide some relief to pilgrims.
“The group of hujaaj who are (walking) with me are few in number, with many not wanting to brave the heat and actually being discouraged to do so. But this group say they want to stand before Allah and say that they have come to Arafat on their own two feet,” he highlighted, adding that despite the conditions the mood remained very jovial.
Reflecting on his own personal experience Laily admitted to being brought to tears on Tuesday evening in Mina at the thought of performing hajj alongside fellow scholar, Sheikh Ebrahim Gabriels, a vocal activist in the plight of the Palestinian people.
“We know and acknowledge that we are walking to Arafat, but as South African’s who have that shared history and parallels with our brothers and sisters in Palestine, we would never forget them.
“To know that I know get the opportunity of being together with sheikh on hajj every year, in a sense being an understudy to him, it’s as if Allah is answering a dua I had made some 15 years ago,” he expressed.
Stay tuned to VOC of the next few days for constant updates on the haj. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)