08/06/2019, 10.39
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Mecca: Amid tradition and modernity, two million pilgrims prepare for the Hajj

The largest pilgrimage falls in the last month of the Islamic calendar, the Dhu Al Hijjah.  Riyadh has mobilized 350,000 employees to ensure safety.  Muslims from Congo blocked because of Ebola epidemic. Leaders warn the faithful: No selfies or texting from  the holy places.  Women must be accompanied by their mahram.



Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Over two million Muslims around the world are finalizing preparations to take part in the Hajj, the traditional major pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, holy places of Islam, one of the five pillars of the religion of  Muhammad.  It coincides with the last month of the Islamic calendar, the Dhu Al Hijjah, and this year is scheduled from 9 to 14 August 2019. The faithful are called to perform a series of rituals carried out by the prophet centuries ago.

Saudi authorities report that the government has mobilized more than 350,000 people from various sectors, from the police to the emergency services, to ensure the safety of pilgrims.  Particular attention is paid to the danger of spreading diseases: this is why Riyadh has forbidden the entry of Muslims from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where a very serious Ebola epidemic is taking place.

"The issuing of entry visas - the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement - for people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been blocked".  About 3% of the Congolese population is of Muslim religion, while the pilgrims of sub-Saharan Africa represent about 10% of the total of two million faithful in transit in Mecca.

Hajj is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and every good Muslim should do it at least once in his life.  Saudi Arabia has often politically exploited permission to reach Mecca;  for years the Syrians have been forbidden to travel to the Muslim holy city.

The crisis between Riyadh (Sunni) and Tehran (Shiite), still in progress between the two great regional powers, in 2016 effectively blocked the journeys of Iranian citizens to the kingdom.  In the past, Riyadh's leadership was targeted by some imams who claimed the Saudi government used money from religious tourism to finance Islamic terrorism.

The pilgrimage is seen as a special gesture of devotion;  however, with the spread of smartphones and social media people seem to spend more time taking photographs and selfies in holy places, updating personal pages or sending messages, rather than performing the rituals provided by tradition.  That's why the Islamic Academy of Coventry issued a warning: "Before leaving, disable all social accounts and avoid taking pictures or sending messages that are not indispensable".  They are "precious" moments, the institute warns, "so don't waste time and use it to give thanks to Allah".

These days, hundreds of thousands of people are coming to the Saudi kingdom to attend the event and adopt the rituals provided by tradition.  For women, the rule is still valid that in order to make the pilgrimage they must be accompanied by a man, the mahram, on condition that they cannot marry him: he will therefore be the son, the father or a brother.

During the Hajj the faithful enter a particular state of purity, known as "Ihram" which provides for the obligation to wear white robes and adopt specific rituals in terms of cleanliness and personal hygiene.  This peculiar "status" implies at the same time the prohibition of performing 11 specific actions: prohibition of sexual relations or sexual discourses in the presence of women;  to perform actions that Allah would consider obscene or transgressive;  hunt animals or help someone hide;  use perfumes or essences;  shaving or cutting hair or nails;  for men, wear stitched clothes;  footwear covering the central bone of the back of the foot;  cover the head;  for women, cover the face but if it is in the presence of a non-mahram man the face must be covered as long as the material does not touch the face;  finally, it is forbidden to cause any kind of harm to another Muslim.

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