There Are 17000 South African Muslims Still Waiting To Attend Haj

Monday, 04 Sep, 2017

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual hajj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 31, 2017.

The incredible images show Muslims performing the Tawaf by circling the Kaaba - the cube-shaped shrine in the centre of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The hajj, which is Arabic for "pilgrimage"- is one of the five pillars of Islam that every Muslim must perform in order to live a good life according to the religion.

The final ritual of the Hajj, the "Great Jamara" - in which pilgrims throw seven stones at a wall representing Satan - is meant to remind Muslims of the devil's constant efforts to lead the faithful astray. Though Mecca is considered to be a city for all Muslims, non-Muslims are denied entry at all times.

Security had been tight, with officials saying they have taken all necessary precautions this year, with more than 100,000 members of the security forces and 30,000 health workers on hand to maintain safety and provide first aid.

The Saudi authorities redesigned the Jamarat area after two stampedes, in 2004 and 2006, killed hundreds of pilgrims, and the frequency of such disasters has greatly reduced as the government spent billions of dollars upgrading and expanding haj infrastructure and crowd control technology.

It further said that the country plans to leverage Haj as an opportunity to position Islam as a united, tolerant and peaceful faith, so that pilgrims take a message of hope and unity back home.

"There is still a lot of confusion from travelers and we are hearing from people who are coming back from hajj and anxious about what they will face at the border", said Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In previous years, jostling to perform the stoning before returning to Mecca accounted for numerous stampedes and crushes that have afflicted Haj.

"Two pilgrims fainted in front of me this morning", said Almas Khattak, a Pakistani volunteer in Mina.

Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of creating obstacles for Qatari pilgrims, a claim Riyadh had rejected.

The shadow of the 2015 stampede still looms large over the ritual.

There are 17,000 South African Muslims on the waiting list to go on the annual Hajj pilgrimage, The South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) told HuffPost SA on Friday.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has taken steps to green the Haj, such as setting quotas for pilgrim numbers and developing the Mecca metro system to limit pollution.

Iranian authorities say more than 86,000 Iranian pilgrims are taking part this year, each equipped with an identity bracelet in case of any accident.

On the Eid al-Adha holiday, or "feast of sacrifice", Muslims slaughter lifestock and donate the meat to the poor.