Men may come and men may go, but the haj goes on forever

By Prarthana Mitra

Over 1.28 lakh of the pilgrims who have embarked on the haj this year are Indian Muslims. According to Hindustan Times, a total of 1,28,702 Indian pilgrims and 466 flights were facilitated by the government to undertake the pilgrimage through the Haj Committee this year.

In a significant improvement in female attendance, more than 47% of the pilgrims going for Haj this year are women, which also includes the highest ever representation of women in Haj from India. The mandate for women to be accompanied by her husband or a mehram (a person with whom marriage is unlawful) for making the pilgrimage was also lifted for the first time this year.

The annual pilgrimage for millions of Muslims all over the world brings them together at the holy shrine of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Every year, followers of Prophet Muhammad pay their respects at the Kaaba after retracing the footsteps of the Prophet’s journey fourteen centuries ago.

Despite the inclement weather and bravung thunderstorms in the Gulf state, over 2 million pilgrims reached Mecca to begin the haj this year. On Sunday, some of the pilgrims made the 700 metres hike to Hira Cave to recite incantations from the Quran, at the spot they believe Prophet Muhammad was visited by Angel Gabriel.

Considered to be a once-in-lifetime duty for all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to undertake the journey, the haj comprises prayer offerings at the Grand Mosque before proceeding towards Mount Arafat where the Prohpet is believed to have sermonised for the last time. Pilgrims are expected to arrive there by Monday which will be followed by a feast of the sacrifice on Tuesday, commemorated as Eid al-Adha. In observance of the day, pilgrims cast stones at the wall as a symbolic gesture for renouncing all evil.

Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister has reported that there is no sign or outbreak of diseases yet, a likely and common occurrence over the five-day ritual. For a state which prides itself on being staunch guardians of the rigorous tenets laid by Islam, Sauri Arabia also stakes its authority on guarding the holiest shrine for Muslims, and conducting the haj year after year. This quest for salvation and inner peace is supposed to have been a transcendental experience for all Muslims who have taken part in the haj.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius