The Facade of Idolitry

06 Nov 2011 AFP

Pilgrims stone Satan in most dangerous rite of hajj

By Abdel Hadi al-Habtoor

MINA, Nov 06, 2011 (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims massed in a valley near the Saudi holy city of Mina on Sunday for the stoning of Satan, the last and most dangerous rite of the annual hajj.

Hundreds of people have been trampled to death in stampedes which have blighted several previous pilgrimages to Islam's holiest sites when the faithful rush to hurl stones at huge pillars symbolising the devil.

To complete the ritual, a pilgrim must throw 21 pebbles at each of three 25-metre (82-foot) pillars.

Saudi authorities have installed a multi-level walkway through the site in a bid to avoid the trampling that caused the deaths of 364 people in 2006, 251 in 2004 and 1,426 in 1990.

So far this year, no major incidents have been reported among the more than 2.5 million pilgrims.

"Things are going well and according to plans," interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told AFP.

A large security force monitored worshippers headed for the stoning after slaughtering sheep in a ritual for the Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) to recall Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son on God's order.

Most pilgrims did not sacrifice an animal themselves, but instead bought vouchers from the Saudi authorities which then forward meat in the form of aid to poor Muslims in other countries.

After the stoning ceremony, the pilgrims go to Mecca's Great Mosque for a "farewell visit" to the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure into which is set the Black Stone, Islam's most sacred relic.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all those who are able to make the journey.

Mukhtar al-Rahman, who is more than 100 years of age, told AFP that "this is the dream of my life which took a century to come true."

"The crowds have tired me and as you can see I can't stand properly because of the huge crowds flooding" into the area, the elderly Bengali said panting as he looked for a small chair to sit on.

More than 1.83 million pilgrims have arrived in the kingdom from abroad, marking a 1.5 percent increase from last year, said Mecca governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal.

Several hundred thousand Saudis and foreign residents in the kingdom were also granted permits to join them, he added.

Coping with the world's largest annual human assembly poses a security headache for Saudi Arabia -- guardian of the two holiest Muslim shrines in the cities of Mecca and Medina, the birth places of Islam.

To help prevent chaos, the authorities have numbered buses and tents in Mina and Mount Arafat, where the pilgrims spent Saturday, according to the countries from which the pilgrims have come.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars over the years to avoid the deadly stampedes that have marred the hajj in the past.

The Chinese-built Mashair Railway, also known as the Mecca Metro, is operating for the first time this year at its full capacity of 72,000 people per hour to ease congestion.

The two-track light railway connects the three holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifah and Mount Arafat.

For the first time this year, the hajj is being streamed live on video-sharing website YouTube in cooperation with the Saudi government.

The stream can be seen at

The ministry of religious affairs sends 3.25 million text messages each day to the mobile phones of pilgrims to inform them of correct procedures for the hajj rites so as to "prevent that which is harmful," ministry official Sheikh Talal al-Uqail told the official SPA news agency.



Hajj junket: Iraqis stew as officials go to hajj

Saudi special forces stand guard as Muslim pilgrims pray during Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws three million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. The Hajj will begin on November 5. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)


MINA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The Muslim pilgrimage of hajj is a moment of equality before God, with millions massed at Islam's most revered sites asking for forgiveness of sins. Of course, some are more equal than others.

At VIP tents, Iraqi lawmakers and politicians in their white pilgrim robes enjoyed the luxury of soft red carpets and air conditioning, fruit baskets set up on long tables and two refrigerators with cold water and soft drinks. It's conveniently right next to the Jamarat, the site of three walls symbolizing the devil that pilgrims lined up to pelt with stones on Monday.

It's a stark contrast from the camp of their fellow citizens, several miles (kilometers) away, where Iraqi pilgrims crowd into stuffy tents and take hours to make their way on foot through the hot Saudi sun to reach the ritual site.

"The officials are staying at the best places with best services while we are suffering here," said Abbas Abid Ali, a 60-year-old Shiite from Baghdad. He sat on a green plastic mattress after sunset near the Jamarat, where he and others spent the day after trekking from their camp.

"Will these officials get the same treatment on Judgment Day?" he said. "God doesn't differentiate and care about officials and rich people."

Several million Muslims have converged on Saudi Arabia for this year's annual hajj, centered around the holy city of Mecca and several sites in the deserts nearby. During the current part of the rites, the pilgrims stay for several nights in a gigantic tent city sprawling around the Jamarat at Mina, about 11 miles (18 kilometers) outside Mecca, and for three days pelt the walls with stones in a symbolic rejection of the devil's temptations.

Like everywhere, money can buy better conditions for the tiring hajj rites, such as better transport to avoid walking in the massive crowds or more comfortable tents. But some complain that political status also wins special consideration.

Iraqi politicians, for example, get a leg up on even getting the precious, limited spaces to attend hajj. While other Iraqis have to go through a lottery to go, sometimes waiting for years, members of parliament or the government can jump the line and go whenever they want.

"They are taking the right of other Iraqi people who are hoping and waiting patiently for this journey," said Qassim Nasser Missaid, who finally got his chance to go because Iraq dedicates some hajj spots for former political prisoners. Missaid had spent 10 years in prison under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Since so many Muslims around the world want to attend hajj each year, Saudi Arabia imposes a quota for each country, in proportion to its population. That means in most countries, demand far exceeds supply. Arab governments and others often use a lottery system to determine who gets to go. Iraq's allotment is about 33,000 people — but its politicians are allowed to take some of those spaces without going through the lottery.

And so this year, more than half of Iraq's 325-member parliament put in to go on the pilgrimage with the government's Hajj and Umrah Commission, which over sees the process. A senior official at the commission put the number at 192. He added that roughly 600 government officials or their families are also going.

"Yes, that's embarrassing to us," the official told The Associated Press in an interview in his office. "But what can we do or say? We are under enormous pressure from these parties." He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The head of the commission, Mohammed Taqi al-Mawla, threatened to resign earlier this year because he said he was under pressure to give 6,000 extra spaces given to Iraq by Saudi Arabia for this hajj to political blocs and not to the general public.

"Lawmakers should be thinking about the delayed laws rather than going to hajj," said Talal al-Zubaie, a parliament member who said he is not going to hajj and was critical of those running off to the pilgrimage.

"If everybody is going to hajj, I wonder why we have such large number of corruption cases in this country? With the large number of officials going to hajj, we should be the least corrupt country in the world," he added.

Transparency International, an international organization which monitors perceptions of corruption, ranked Iraq 175 out of 178 countries in its 2010 rankings.

Iraq is not alone in this problem. Other Arab countries don't necessarily allow politicians to opt out of the lottery system, but there are frequent reports of officials pulling strings to get themselves a spot.

In 2006 in Indonesia, a former religious affairs minister was convicted of embezzling about $76 million from a fund to help people go on the hajj. His successor scrapped a government policy to pay all hajj costs for government officials, legislators and community leaders. But people were outraged when last year a group of more than 60 legislators, their relatives and staff went on a fully paid "working visit" to Mecca during the holy month.

Similar allegations mar the hajj in Pakistan, where the former religious affairs minister is in prison, facing corruption charges related to hajj expenses.

One Iraqi lawmaker who did make the pilgrimage defended his right to go. A parliament member, he said, "is doing a hard job mostly at midnight. He is a target for the terrorists, and then going to hajj with his own money." He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the controversy over lawmakers going.

But for many Iraqis the fact that lawmakers are able to get preference on the trip and are going during such a crucial time when so many issues concerning Iraq's future still need to be resolved, leaves a bad impression.

Abu Abdullah al-Obeidi put his name into the lottery in 2008 and is scheduled to go next year with his wife for the first time. He said the government figures are supposed to serve the people but instead he feels like the people serve them.

"They do not care about the interests of the country because their personal interests are the top priority," he said.

Santana reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia and Chris Brummitt in Islamabad, Pakistan contributed to this report.


My hope for you is that you have had a prayer of salvation,
and if you haven't and you want to ask Christ into your heart and life, then I offer these words for you to repeat,
but only if your heart is sincere, because God knows it if you're not.

Dear God, I now know I have needed you and have
rejected your calling, so today, right now, 
I ask Jesus Christ to come into my heart and my life, 
and forgive me from all past sin and Lord cleanse me 
from my unrighteousness. I believe that Jesus was 
crucified for my sin, died, and was buried according 
to the scriptures. I want you forever more to be 
my guide and I want to follow you as a believer. 
I ask for your strength to change my heart and 
my earthly ways so that I can become a better 
child in your kingdom. Show me how to depend 
on you in all things. And show me how to do 
your will in my life. I thank you and pray this 
prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!

November 7th, 2011