The essential steps for a healthy Hajj

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A policeman sprays pilgrims with cooling water near Al-Haram Mosque. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Air conditioned comfort in the ‘Tent City’ of Mina, near Makkah. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Pilgrims in Makkah.
Updated 10 August 2018
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The essential steps for a healthy Hajj

LONDON: Today’s Hajj pilgrims will experience unprecedented comfort compared to those of even just 20 years ago. In the last decade the Saudi government has pumped billions of dollars into providing modernized services and amenities to accommodate the millions of Muslims who make the annual pilgrimage.

But the spirit of Hajj itself remains unchanged, said Rashid Mogradia, CEO of the Council of British Hajjis (CBH).
“Everything about getting to and staying around Makkah is easier now, thanks to streamlined systems and electronic processing, but the five days of Hajj are the essence of the journey and remain authentic,” Mogradia told Arab News.
Mogradia, who has completed the Hajj journey five times himself, will join around 25,000 fellow Brits this year as he once again travels to Makkah for the ultimate spiritual journey.
“When you’re in the barren desert and wearing nothing but two pieces of cloth, you leave the creature comforts behind. This is the real Hajj experience. It is ever challenging and spiritual,” he said.

Physical preparation
As the Hajj consists of a series of physically demanding rituals, pilgrims have to be in their best physical condition. Conducted over five days, it includes rigorous exercises such as the circular, counter-clockwise procession around the Kaaba, and the symbolic stoning of evil.
Mogradia advised: “There is a lot of walking involved, so it’s important to invest in decent footwear. Once you’ve bought the footwear, make sure you walk similar distances in the new shoes before you travel to Makkah.”
Zohra Sarwari, a California-based Muslim author and coach, recommends walking long distances before the Hajj. “You should walk at least two to five miles a day,” she said.
Her words are borne of hard experience: “When we did the Hajj it was just after my daughter had been born ... I had not exercised for almost two years. I thought because I was young it would be a piece of cake for me. Boy, was I wrong.”
Although she managed to walk “most of the way” from Makkah to Mina and back, she admitted: “Let’s just say I wanted a wheelchair due to the difficulty of it all,” she said.
The international life and business coach also recommends “doing cardio and being in shape” because this will make the Hajj experience easier and more relaxing.
She added: “It’s also important to eat healthily before the trip and on the trip itself to maintain energy levels. The food is very fattening in some of the Hajj packages. Go for the lighter items, you will find it easier to perform your Hajj properly without feeling exhausted.”

Prepping mind and soul
In the words of Dr. Aslam Abdullah, resident scholar at online Muslim community IslamiCity.org, the Hajj is “more than an adventure.”
“It is a journey into self-reflection and personality development. It’s an experience that allows Hajjis to live the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. It is a journey for learning the art of sacrifice; it allows pilgrims to connect with the divine,” he said.
“Many pilgrims prepare for decades before embarking on this journey … so when they experience any hardship at Hajj, they use the endurance and strength they have built over years to overcome it.”
Sarwari emphasized being spiritually and mentally steeled. “You are there to connect to your Creator, to appreciate all that you have, and understand the purpose of this life a bit more.”
The coach said pilgrims should read books and watch videos to learn about the process of Hajj beforehand. “This is so they understand what each step means, so that they know how to perform them and appreciate why we do them,” she explained.
Sarwari also said it is important to ask people about their experiences to get their thoughts on what to do and what to avoid during the trip.
The coach added that pilgrims should “clarify their intentions” before embarking on the Hajj.
“Personally, I didn’t use the phone except to let my dad know that we got there safely. I wasn’t there to talk on the phone, or record everything. I was there to connect to my Lord,” Sarwari said.
“I wanted to make sure I prayed on time, I did my dhikr (remembrances), read the Qur’an, helped others and taught the sisters. Immerse yourself in the moment and be there. Forget about the world while you’re there.”
Mogradia said Hajj pilgrims have a “moral obligation” to bring the experience back with them and share it with their community — Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
“Hajj (pilgrims) are guests of God and they should bring that experience back to the community. The Hajj experience shows that people from all corners of the world can actually get along,” said Mogradia.


Judge may acquit women or call defense in Kim Jong Nam trial

Updated 5 min 46 sec ago
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Judge may acquit women or call defense in Kim Jong Nam trial

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Two Southeast Asian women on trial in Malaysia for the brazen assassination of the North Korean leader’s half-brother could be acquitted Thursday or called to enter their defense in a case that has gripped the world.
Indonesia’s Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnam’s Doan Thi Huong, 29, are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face in a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. The women have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a hidden-camera show.
They are the only two suspects in custody and face the death penalty if convicted. If the defense is called, the trial could take several more months.
If the women are acquitted, they may not be freed right away as prosecutors could still appeal the decision as well as push forward with separate charges for overstaying their visas.
Here’s a look at arguments that were raised during the trial:
THE PROSECUTION
Over the course of the six-month trial featuring testimony from 34 people, prosecutors laid out a bizarre murder plot they likened to something from a James Bond film.
They accused four North Koreans, suspected government agents with code names such as “Mr. Y” and “Grandpa” and later identified by police, of being the masterminds who recruited the women, trained them and provided them with VX. All four fled the country the same morning Kim was killed and none are in custody.
Airport security footage shown in court captured the moment of the attack and prosecutors said linked the women to the other suspects. Shortly after Kim arrived at the airport, Huong was seen approaching him, clasping her hands on his face from behind and then fleeing. Another blurred figure was also seen running away from Kim and a police investigator testified that it was Aisyah.
Investigators said the women were seen rushing to separate washrooms, each with their hands outstretched, before they fled the airport. Kim died within two hours of the attack.
A government chemist testified that the VX concentration found on Kim’s skin was 1.4 times greater than the lethal dosage. He said VX was found in Kim’s eyes, face, blood, urine and clothing, as well as on both women’s clothes and on Huong’s fingernail clippings.
In his closing arguments in June, prosecutor Wah Shaharuddin Wan Ladin said the women must have been trained to use VX, a rare nerve agent developed as a chemical weapon. He said they had to know the best route for VX to enter the victim’s body and know that they must wash the nerve agent off themselves within 15 minutes to avoid being contaminated.
With Kim a tall and heavy man, the prosecutor said the women had “used their bodily power” to deliberately target the poison on his eyes and face for faster penetration. Despite their claim about a prank, he said their facial expressions and conduct during the attack didn’t reflect any humor.
“We expect that the defense will be called for a simple reason: They need to explain why VX was found on them,” Wan Shaharuddin told The Associated Press.
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THE DEFENSE
Lawyers for the two women say their clients were simply pawns in a politically motivated killing with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
They say the prosecution’s case was too simplistic, handicapped by a sloppy investigation and failed to show any intention on the part of their clients to kill — key to establishing the women’s guilt.
The defense said evidence has shown the women’s conduct before and after the killing was inconsistent with that of assassins, pointing out that they didn’t wear gloves when applying VX, didn’t dispose of their tainted clothing and didn’t flee the country.
The real culprits, the defense argues, are the four North Korean suspects. The four were captured by airport security cameras discarding their belongings and changing their clothing after the attack.
The North Korean Embassy has also been implicated with an embassy official helping get flights out for the four men and using the name of one of its citizens to buy a car that was used to take the suspects to the airport.
Nevertheless, Pyongyang has denied accusations by South Korean and US officials that it was behind the killing. Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicized.
“The prosecution’s evidence is purely circumstantial,” Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said, noting that there was no proof that his client applied VX on Kim. He said his client’s DNA was not found on a shirt recovered by police.
Huong’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said they have given prosecution “a good fight.”
“We are confident that justice will be served on Thursday and (Huong) will be acquitted,” he said.