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A New Wave of Pilgrims Gear Up for Hajj, Marking the First Significant Gathering Post-COVID-19 Era

by Lucas Garcia
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Hajj pilgrimage

The upcoming Hajj symbolizes a historic event – the first comprehensive pilgrimage following a grueling three-year epoch during which the COVID-19 pandemic drastically curtailed one of Islam’s most sacred and cherished rituals.

In the coming week, millions of Muslims globally are set to converge on Mecca in Saudi Arabia to initiate the several days of rites at holy locations within and around the city. For these pilgrims, this represents the pinnacle of their spiritual journey, an opportunity to request God’s mercy for their sins and to follow in the footsteps of revered prophets like Muhammad and Abraham.

The Hajj signifies a collective, communal experience where Muslims from diverse races and backgrounds perform the rituals united. However, it also retains a deeply personal aspect, as each pilgrim arrives with their own hopes and experiences.

Big Big News had the opportunity to converse with numerous pilgrims from distant places as they geared up for their voyage.

GAZA:

Huda Zaqqout has had a tough journey, raising 10 children alone while residing in the Gaza Strip, a place besieged from all sides and devastated by several wars. Yet, at 64, she’s now preparing for her Hajj journey. Interestingly, an easing of Saudi policy has now made it possible for more women pilgrims to participate without requiring a male relative’s escort. This shift in policy came at a fortunate time for Zaqqout, who has long-awaited this opportunity.

“Being in Gaza is akin to being in a prison. We are confined from all sides and borders,” she reflected. Nevertheless, she will make the journey alongside a group of women, all aged 60 and above. For Zaqqout, the journey will make a long-held dream a reality, one that she claims is often foreseen in her dreams.

Gazans face a particular set of difficulties due to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007 when the militant group Hamas assumed power. Regardless, the hardships have not quelled Zaqqout’s excitement. She has been preparing herself by learning Hajj rituals through YouTube videos and undergoing physiotherapy for her feet, anticipating the extensive standing and walking involved in the pilgrimage.

Zaqqout views the Hajj as the final item on her life’s to-do list. “After that, I don’t need anything from life,” she states. On Mount Arafat, the climactic moment of the Hajj, she plans to pray for global peace, love, and the well-being of her family.

INDONESIA:

Husin bin Nisan, an 85-year-old “Pak Ogah” (volunteer traffic warden) from Peusar village, has been dreaming of making the Hajj for over 15 years. Now, his dream is becoming a reality. Despite the extensive waiting list and pandemic-induced disruptions, Husin maintained his faith that he would eventually journey to Mecca. Authorities are now prioritizing the elderly, and Indonesia has managed to secure an additional 8,000 spots this year.

LEBANON:

In Beirut’s trendy Badaro neighborhood, Abbas Bazzi, a cafe and grocery co-owner, is gearing up for what he hopes will be his fourth Hajj. Although Bazzi’s image may not match traditional expectations of a devout Muslim, his commitment to Islam and the Hajj is unwavering.

UNITED STATES:

Saadiha Khaliq, a 41-year-old Pakistani-American engineer from Tennessee, is overwhelmed with emotions as she contemplates the spiritual significance of her upcoming Hajj journey. The pandemic served as a reminder of life’s transience and has lent a sense of urgency to her pilgrimage preparations.

IRA.
In her 64th year, Huda Zaqqout is finally embarking on her first Hajj pilgrimage. Living in the besieged Gaza Strip, Huda, a mother of 10, has endured numerous hardships. However, she considers her life a miracle, filled with the love of her expansive family, which includes 30 grandchildren. With the recent easing of Saudi policy, more women are now able to participate in the pilgrimage without requiring a male relative to accompany them. This change aligns perfectly with Zaqqout’s circumstances as her sons can’t afford the lengthy and challenging journey from Gaza to Mecca. Zaqqout, who has longed for this opportunity for years, will be making the journey alongside a group of women, all over 60.

Throughout her life, Zaqqout has experienced many prophetic dreams. These dreams have predicted major events in her life, from the birth of her triplets to the hardships and blessings that came after her husband left her for a younger woman. Following her recent dream where she saw Prophet Muhammad standing beside her, she felt an overwhelming desire to be in his proximity and subsequently signed up for Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca that can be performed at any time.

Zaqqout had previously registered for Hajj in 2010, but her name was never selected. However, this year, when she nervously tuned into the radio broadcast announcing the Hajj pilgrims, her name was called, causing her to fall to the ground in joyful tears. Despite the fact that the trip will be incredibly challenging, particularly for Gazans who have been under blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2007, Zaqqout’s excitement hasn’t faltered. She is preparing for the pilgrimage by watching YouTube videos on Hajj rituals and attending physiotherapy sessions for her feet in anticipation of the amount of walking and standing required.

At home, her grandchildren eagerly surround her. They express their love and support, even joining her in her tears of joy. One of her grandsons insisted on accompanying her while she shopped for gifts, prayer mats, and clothes for the pilgrimage. Zaqqout believes that completing the Hajj is the last item on her life’s to-do list. Once this is accomplished, she feels she will need nothing more from life. During the climactic moment of the Hajj on Mount Arafat, she plans to pray for peace, love, and the happiness and success of her family.

(INDONESIA)

On a hazardous curve outside Jakarta, Indonesia, 85-year-old Husin bin Nisan has been directing traffic for more than 30 years. Husin, a volunteer traffic warden known as a “Pak Ogah”, has tirelessly collected tips to fulfill his lifelong dream of attending the Hajj. It’s been a waiting game of over 15 years for Husin, but finally, his wait is over.

Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country globally, has a lengthy queue of citizens aspiring to embark on the Hajj pilgrimage. This line has stretched even further due to the travel restrictions implemented by Saudi Arabia in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, less than half of Indonesia’s quota could attend due to age restrictions when Hajj reopened. To remedy this, Indonesia successfully negotiated with Saudi Arabia to secure an additional 8,000 spots this year, allowing more of its citizens to undertake the pilgrimage. Special preference is given to the elderly, with more than 8,200 people over the age of 85 included in this year’s quota. The oldest participant is a 118-year-old woman.

Despite the numerous obstacles and setbacks he’s faced, Husin’s faith has remained unshaken. He’s now packed his suitcase and with the same content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hajj pilgrimage

What is the Hajj and when does it take place?

The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. It is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims and must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable. Hajj is performed over specific days during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah.

Why is the Kaaba significant in Islam?

The Kaaba is the most sacred site in Islam. It’s a cubic structure located at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Muslims believe that the Kaaba was built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ismail. During Hajj, pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction, a ritual known as Tawaf.

Why do Muslims touch or kiss the Black Stone during Hajj?

The Black Stone is a corner stone of the Kaaba. Muslims believe it was set intact by Prophet Muhammad in 605 AD. Touching or kissing the Black Stone has a symbolic meaning for Muslims, it’s seen as an act of respect and reverence, but it is not mandatory during Hajj.

What is the significance of the Day of Arafah during Hajj?

The Day of Arafah is considered the most important day of the Hajj pilgrimage. On this day, pilgrims gather at the mountain plain of Arafat, where they spend the day in deep prayer and reflection. It’s believed that on this day, God forgives the sins of those who are sincere in their repentance.

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