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Author Topic: Al Jazeera reporter blogs on past and present Hajj  (Read 1522 times)
WCoastbaba
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« on: Nov 15, 2010 12:14 PM »


I thought this first one was especially beautiful, so really wanted to share it with all of you. Second one is also nice and both contain a touch of warmth and humor as well. He has been recently reported from Pakistan covering the floods. -  BABA  desibro

Return to Mecca


So Rahman with his mother, Zubeeda Naheed Rahman, and father Habib Ul Rahman in 1973 Photo copyright: Rahman Family Archive

Arriving in the late evening into Mecca was not plain sailing. Though I am part of a large media outfit, even being with Al Jazeera holds little sway with the police when they see you wearing the two-piece white sheets – ihram.

It’s a complicated catch-22 situation. To arrive in Mecca, in fact in Saudi during the Hajj month you have to state your intention religiously, so you wear your ihram as you fly into Jeddah.

However, we were not performing the Hajj as we’re guests of the Ministry of Information covering Hajj for the channel, so theoretically one might say you shouldn’t wear the ihram.

The problem arises when the police who patrol the toll plaza as you enter the city see who you are and what you’re wearing.

People performing Hajj can only enter the city with the correct Hajj visa. We’re travelling on a Media/ Business visa and wearing the ihram but not performing Hajj only Ummrah - the lesser pilgrimage that can be performed at any time. Do you see the problem?

Well even the simple explanation of: "We’re here to cover the Hajj" wasn’t good enough at two police check posts. They stopped us and even demanded we change into western clothes. Our minders from the ministry eventually managed to sway them, but it seems even ministry officials are ignored by the all-powerful police.

Memories from 1973

I don’t ever remember it being like this. I had been to Mecca for pilgrimage just once before, in 1973 with my beloved parents, Habib and Zubeeda. I was a mere slip of a lad and I know I’m still as cute now as I was then…the years have been kind.

My mum's cousins lived in Saudi, owning gold shops and watch concessions. Uncle Aziz was a large man with a huge straggly black beard and crazy hair; he reminded me of a pirate and I thought he was really cool.  During the day in Mecca they would be selling their wears, closing only for prayer time.

The days were warm and sunny and the night cool. My recollections are vague but whilst I walk on the warm marble in 2010, I have no memory of it or how wide the pavement was from the Kaaba to the street.

The area around the grand mosque, too, is different. There are fewer shops and now one side has a huge complex of five-star hotels and shopping malls, definitely a new addition to a city that has to balance spirituality with the need for many to stay in touch with the modern world and all that comes with it - from clothes to food. It wasn’t like that in 1973.

I remember no major hotels - just a range of small guest houses, situated close to the Kaaba perimeter. I recall my uncle's home above the shop and rooms to spare of the never-ending line of house guests that arrived from across the globe.

I was amazed to see a small metal tin placed in front of me one day, along with some butter and lots of French styled bread. I pulled the ring and there slipping out like a lump of custard was cheese, yes, my first sight of cheese in a tin.

Now living in Qatar, I see this all over the Middle East but it is a strange sight to befall the eyes of one so young when you are so used to seeing cheese in a refrigerator at a supermarket deli counter.

Giving thanks

The smells of Mecca have changed too; gone are the attractive aromas of spit-roasted chicken and in their place are the fast food chains and kebab shops. Not my cup of tea, but in the fast-moving media world and in between prayers it’s the best source of nourishment.

As I meander around the outer wall of the Grand Mosque my feet stumble on what can only be described as a pile of seed - of course - the pigeons. My father used to bring me to feed them each evening.

Happy memories are beginning to come back slowly, as is the reason my parents journeyed to the holy centre of our faith. Many come here to thank God for his blessings and perhaps ask him for his grace. My parents came for nothing more than to say thank you for giving them their only son and to ask for his forgiveness and mercy.

They wanted nothing more than to appreciate his kindness for giving them a son 13 years after their wedding and several beautiful daughters. Of course I want my sins to be absolved, but foremost, I want nothing from God except the chance to thank him for the wonderful parents he gave me.
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« Reply #1 on: Nov 15, 2010 12:16 PM »

Sacrificial goat - with mint sauce


Photo by Al Jazeera's Fadi El Binni

More than two million Muslims are on their way to the plain of Arafat in Saudi Arabia, having moved now from Mina as the Hajj rituals swing into full gear.


The tented city of Mina is where pilgrims will be at one with God and where they will return to stone the representation of the devil depicted as huge stone slabs in a ritual in the coming days.

This comes as the pilgrims begin their journey to attain the vital steps towards the status as Hajjis.

Part of that is to sacrifice an animal to commemorate the prophet Abraham’s willingness to give up his son Ismail as an offering to God. At the last second, Muslims believe God  - seeing Abraham’s devotion to him - swapped Ismail with a sheep, hence the slaughtering of animals as part of Hajj.

This all happens at Mina and up to 750,000 camels, cows, sheep and goats are being prepared for sacrifice. The authorities, trying to be eco-friendly, are using a whole host of techniques to use every part of the animal, from canning and freezing to cold storage.

Butchers from Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Egyptian have gathered as a way to help the process - 18,000 of them along with helpers.

The process will begin at 08:00am local time on Tuesday and for 84 hours those pilgrims, many if not all, will have paid for their animal to be sacrificed.

Camels, goats and sheep

I, too, have offered sadaqa (charity) and an offering. I’m obliged to do so as a practicing Muslim but I have to admit I hate the sight of blood, I’m a complete wimp.

Walking through the pens of animals, it was hard to come to terms with the fact that by Friday evening they would be no more. The camels gazed at me as I poked my camera at them, hoping to catch a stunning shot I could show the family. But the cows just sat looking docile.

It was the goats that seemed to take a shine to me more than they should have and more that we’ll show you in my report. Needless to say, while I knew they were about to be eaten by millions of people, one little critter decided to get in there first and have a go at me.

Even threatening him with mint sauce wasn’t enough - he wanted my clothes and he got a good taste of them until I managed to shoo him away.

Though feeling rather faint at the thought of sheep dropping en mass, my cameraman insisted I had to stay in the pen with the goats to complete my piece to camera for the channel.

My bosses better be pleased with what they get, for if it’s not being ankle deep in sheep faceas it’s knee deep in Pakistan’s floodwaters.
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WCoastbaba
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« Reply #2 on: Nov 16, 2010 05:24 PM »

No end in sight

Photo by Fadi El Binni

It's the third day of the Hajj and back in Mina, a day after finishing our live broadcasts at Arafat - the site of where the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) gave his last sermon.

We stayed in the very adequate surroundings of a converted corrugated iron shed. The cows would have loved it! Sarcasm aside, the Saudis have looked after the media very well, we’ve been chauffeured in buses and coaches from location to location with relatively little hassle.

It’s been a God-send, or should I say, Allah-send. Seeing how the pilgrims have to travel by foot the few kilometers to Muzdalifah, another sacred site overnight, I’m counting my lucky stars I’m on a coach with a toilet.

The coaches are bumper to bumper - you could think you’re in Times Square, New York. Bright lights and the loud beeps of horns, a sea of white-clad bodies all moving in one direction.

As the coaches jostle for a decent position on the road I come back to the reality of where I am. There are obstacles and they come in all shapes and sizes, but what I saw next I wasn’t expecting.

A pilgrim has been knocked over by a bus, he’s unconscious as others gather. The police seem to be quickly on the scene and we drive past in slow motion, helpless to do anything as the ambulance arrives.

I’m wondering what the world's journalists are making of it all. For many travelling with us it is the first time they are covering the Hajj. Perhaps another article of the fragility of life. I pray for the man's recovery, what more should I do?

Exhausting trek

We finally arrive at Muzdalifah and being so far from the media centre we have to walk…I know, walk at my age! However, I sucked it up, as we say in Northern England where I’m from, and toddled off behind the rest of the 20-man and one-woman AJE team, Arabic and English.

The walk was supposed to be a 250-metre trip across the car park, but 250 kilometers (well it felt like that) and 45 minutes later my Timberland knock-offs were not wearing well. I needed inspiration or a cup of tea but it didn’t come instantly.

We pray, and as I spend more time here I am feeling very comfortable with my faith as I always have but there’s a joy in how I’m praying that I have never felt before.

Later, exhausted and tired, I spot showers on the site. I rush in along with my cameraman Ahmed …into separate cubicles you’ll be relieved to hear.

The water pours over me and I give out an almighty groan of pleasure as the sweaty Sohail Rahman is refreshed and ready for the next religious test of faith.

Coming out of the showers I’m given a few strange looks from the international faces that are the media contingent here…oh dear, I think I must have enjoyed that shower a bit too much!
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« Reply #3 on: Nov 17, 2010 07:21 PM »

Here is the news report to go along with the post about the slaughtering process:

Hajj streamlines ritual slaughter
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« Reply #4 on: Nov 18, 2010 12:53 PM »

Another report on the issue of piety vs consumerism in and around Makkah during Hajj:

Between piety and consumerism
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« Reply #5 on: Nov 18, 2010 08:18 PM »

I think the Hajj has always been linked with business, even from the earliest times. I remember in '99 there were tons of local women that would sell their wares in the streets, along with pilgrims from all over selling beautiful hand made things to perhaps offset their hajj expenses. I heard they demolished all the local markets and stall areas and now there are only established expensive malls with stores like sephora and gucci Sad Sad to hear that. Perhaps some ppl do go overboard and spend their Hajj shopping when they should be concentrating on other things Sad
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« Reply #6 on: Nov 19, 2010 03:59 AM »

I can't comprehend where does it all end?
Where do you draw the line and say it's enough?
Shops and malls will always attract you,but in a time when we are already immersed in Israaf,do you think we should take a deeper plunge and further commercialize a spiritual journey?
I mean a little indulgence is fine but we shouldn't go to the extent where we forget the real purpose of Hajj and sadly enough,this trend of consumerism is growing at an alarming rate.
May Allah save us all from falling into the clutches of the Shaytan.
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« Reply #7 on: Nov 19, 2010 11:53 AM »

Salaam again - I agree with what both of you had said. I think it was normal to have some business along with the Hajj, from what I've read about the past genereations, as you say Jannah, with the stalls and whatnot, though nothing extravagent. Yes it has gone too far with the malls, etc. Ameen to your du'a bhaya.

OK, this is another report from . . al Jazeera, lol, where else, but not to do with consumerism, but at least earning money during Hajj, so wanted to post it here and it's a nice thing that these young boys are doing. Thoughts? BABA  desibro

Hajj help at hand for the disabled
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« Reply #8 on: Nov 19, 2010 12:03 PM »

This is a report from the reporter whose blogs I have posted above and yet again, another reason to be disappointed in the Pakistani Govt  Sad

Broken promises for Hajj Pakistanis
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« Reply #9 on: Nov 19, 2010 01:51 PM »

Development,development and more development...but only for the rich Sad
The poor are always sidelined and get something only after it is discarded or disregarded by the wealthy.

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101119/ap_on_bi_ge/ml_saudi_hajj

MECCA, Saudi Arabia – A dozen glittering skyscrapers tower over Islam's holiest shrine, the Kaaba, boasting hotel rooms with 24-hour butler service and luxury marble bathrooms. Below, throngs of Muslims perform the annual hajj pilgrimage, many of them impoverished, sleeping in the streets.

Saudi authorities have transformed the look of Mecca, Islam's most sacred city, and are planning even more dramatic change in years to come. But much of the change has catered to high-end pilgrims, and critics say what is supposed to be an austere spiritual ritual bringing Muslims closer to God has turned into a luxury expedition for some.

Samir Barqah, a guide who runs tours of the historic city in Mecca, says luxury towers are turning Mecca into Manhattan.

"The fast urban development managed to remove all the character from Mecca," Barqah said. "Mecca as our parents and grandfathers knew it no longer exists ... Mecca is now becoming a layer of glass and cement sheets."

The skyscrapers, sporting towering glass facades and luxury shopping malls, have sprouted up around the esplanade in front of the sprawling, multilevel Grand Mosque. The mosque surrounds the Kaaba, the cube-shaped shrine that Muslims around the world face during prayers and pilgrims circle seven times during the hajj rites.

Until recently, Mecca, the homeland of Islam's seventh century Prophet Muhammad, was a rather ramshackle city, built up with little planning over several desert hills with low, often dilapidated buildings. It could barely handle the burden when the numbers of pilgrims descending on it every year were only in the hundreds of thousands.

Now those numbers are in the millions, making the hajj one of the biggest annual events in the word. And it's only growing — officially nearly 3 million participated n this year's pilgrimage, which was ending Friday, not counting hundreds of thousands of "unofficial" pilgrims who sneak into Mecca without hajj permits required by Saudi authorities.

Click image to see photos of the hajj

AFP/Mustafa Ozer
So Saudi Arabia is launching a massive project to upgrade Mecca and nearby shrines over the next 10 years. The goal is to accommodate five times the current number of pilgrims.

"Don't be surprised by anything in the next decade," the governor of Mecca province, Prince Khaled al-Faisal told journalists Thursday, promising the most advanced technology to "make things comfortable for the pilgrims." He wouldn't give the cost, but said it was "unimaginable."

The plan includes removing slums and old buildings around Mecca and replacing them with a new generation of housing and hotels. Authorities also plan to build new hospitals and improve transportation and communication infrastructure, said the governor's deputy, Abdulaziz al-Khedheiri.

The housing will have a "a diversity of levels, from one-star to seven star hotels," he said. For this hajj, Saudi authorities unveiled a train line that carried pilgrims to one of the ritual sites in the deserts outside Mecca although that was reserved for Saudis and citizens of other Gulf nations until it becomes fully operational next year.

Already, buildings are being removed from hills on the northern side of the Grand Mosque to allow an expansion adding room for 1 million more people to pray. So far the expansion has cost $10 billion, al-Khedheiri said.

Management of the hajj is a major way for Saudi Arabia's ruling family to tout the Islamic credentials central to its legitimacy. Saudi King Abdullah includes among his titles "the guardian of the two shrines" — Mecca and the nearby holy city of Medina.

Over the five days of hajj, the pilgrims trek simultaneously between a string of sites, from the Kaaba to Mount Arafat, a desert hill 12 miles (19 kilometers) away in the desert.

The kingdom has been expanding infrastructure in recent years, and some of the changes have doubtlessly saved lives. The rites at Mina, between Mecca and Arafat, often saw deadly stampedes as huge crowds tried to pass three stone walls symbolizing the devil to pelt them with stones. Now a complex resembling a gigantic, multilevel parking garage surrounds the walls, allowing pilgrims to file by them more easily, and no crushes have occurred since 2006.

But the grand scale — and luxury atmosphere — of some changes threaten to overwhelm the religious sites themselves at times. Historic sites, like houses believed to have belonged to the prophet's family or old mosques, have been leveled in past construction.

Hayat Hama, a 47-year-old German pilgrim of Iraqi origin, said she didn't care too much for the skyscrapers crowding the Kaaba. "They were pretty. But when I saw them, I thought they were part of the rituals, something for us to visit," she said. Still, she said, her trip to Mecca was like "visiting heaven."
The towers, which contain hotels and malls, are also a stark contrast to the conditions for other pilgrims. Many cram into rented houses, up to 20 people a room, or tromp between the holy sites with only a small tent to sleep under.

Al-Khedeiri pointed out that the land on which the skyscrapers are built is owned by Islamic authorities, so profits go to maintaining and upgrading the holy sites.

The worry is that the massive development will also favor wealthier hajjis in a pilgrimage that is supposed to be a time for Muslims to appear before God equal and pure and lead a few days of hermetic life.
Official pilgrims come through tour groups, which arrange transportation, hotels and space in the tent cities set up around Arafat and Mina. Just like any tour, the more you pay, the better the amenities. Covering the costs of hajj for the poor is a common charity activity in many Muslim nations. Unofficial pilgrims are often those who can't afford the packages and come to Saudi Arabia long before the hajj season to do it on their own, or residents in Saudi Arabia who can reach Mecca easily.

Some of the luxury towers offer rooms with a view of the Kaaba — a favorite among the better off who don't want to rub shoulders with the masses but want to still pray in sight of the shrine. Moreover, the rooms offer 24-hour butlers and even a so-called 'hajj kit' with designer clothes to be used in rituals, with prices ranging from a whopping $6,000 per night for a royal suite to $1,600 for the regular room. Officials said the hotels were at full capacity this year.

Even the tent cities outside Mecca are cashing in on the high-end. Nicer camps boast BBQs for dinner, juice stands, parasols and plastic chairs for leisure time.

"It is too expensive," said Khaled Abdel-Maksoud, a 50-year old Egyptian civil engineer.

He has performed hajj for the past four years, each time without a permit, because he lives in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Even so, this year, he spent nearly a $1,000 for his and his wife's hajj. For the first days in Mecca, they slept in a rented flat with other families, and for the rest he camped out on the ground.
Along the roads between sites, hotels even rent rooms by the minute to allow pilgrims to pop in, change clothes or shower. They start off at $27 for 10 minutes, but on the last day soared to $267, Abdel-Maksoud said.

Ossama al-Bar, Mecca's mayor, said new projects aimed at low to middle incomes are also on the list.
"We want every sector to find what they want in this holy city."
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« Reply #10 on: Nov 20, 2010 12:32 AM »

That's so true. All these developments knock out the lower priced housing that people used to make Hajj more affordable. I know there used be houses and hostels that different nationalities used. Unfortunately the demand is just so great to be so close to the Haram and to make better accommodations that they are going this route. Like the Pakistani video shows, people are just not satisfied being 6km away.

I remember going like 10 years ago and it was so cheap for us as students because we stayed in a hostel type building a little up the hill from the Haram, but of course it's been razed now. I do think they should be updating and checking the structural integrity of buildings to keep everyone safe, such as the one of the Malaysians that unfortunately collapsed the year I went to Hajj, but they are really pricing the Hajj way out of people's reach. Even in the US I was shocked to see the price is around 10k this year. I mean who can afford that?? Yes people should save up over their lifetimes to go, but for a couple or a family it's going to take at least a few decades and I can't imagine other people around the world being able to afford it.

 
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« Reply #11 on: Nov 26, 2010 08:51 PM »

akhan bhaya - Yes, would have been better off with Mush, that is for sure.

Sis J - Yes, with the demands for safely and to be closer, unfortunately the more affordable housing is lost at the same time. Hmph . .  can't imagine how things will be when I get around to going insha'allah and as you state, if it's 10K now . . . sheesh!  BABA desibro

Anyways, another report regarding the inaction of the Pakistani govt to help out their Hajjis:

Sleeping on the streets: Hajj AJE Web Exclusive
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