Muslims start Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah

Muslim worshippers pray around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Makkah on June 13, 2024, ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP)
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Updated 14 June 2024
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Muslims start Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah

  • 1,000 families of Palestinians killed or wounded in Gaza war also arrived to perform Hajj at the invitation of Saudi King Salman
  • This year’s Hajj saw Syrian pilgrims traveling to Makkah on direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade

JEDDAH: In sweltering temperatures, Muslim pilgrims in Makkah converged on a vast tent camp in the desert on Friday, officially opening the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Ahead of their trip, they circled the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site.
More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world have already amassed in and around Makkah for the Hajj, and the number was still growing as more pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia joined.  
Saudi authorities expected the number to exceed 2 million this year.
This year’s Hajj came against the backdrop of the raging war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Palestinian militants, which pushed the Middle East to the brink of a regional war between Israel and its allies on one side and Iran-backed militant groups on the other.
Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Makkah for Hajj this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip’s southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.
“We pray for the Muslims, for our country and people, for all the Muslim world, especially for the Palestinian people,” Mohammed Rafeeq, an Indian pilgrim, said as he headed to the tent camp in Mina.




Pilgrims started Hajj by praying Fajr in the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA)

Palestinian authorities said 4,200 pilgrims from the occupied West Bank arrived in Makkah for Hajj. Saudi authorities said 1,000 more from the families of Palestinians killed or wounded in the war in Gaza also arrived to perform Hajj at the invitation of King Salman of Saudi Arabia. The 1,000 invitees were already outside Gaza — mostly in Egypt — before the closure of the Rafah crossing.
“We are deprived of (performing) Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of the raging wars and destruction,” said Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman in Gaza’s southern city of Khan Younis who had planned to perform Hajj this year but was unable to. “They (Israel) deprived us from everything.”
This year's Hajj also saw Syrian pilgrims traveling to Makkah on direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade. Syrians in rebel-held areas used to cross the border into neighboring Turkey in their trip to Makkah for Hajj.
“This is the natural thing: Pilgrims go to Hajj directly from their home countries,” said Abdel-Aziz al-Ashqar, a Syrian coordinator of the group of pilgrims who left Damascus this year for Hajj.




Pilgrims started Hajj by praying Fajr in the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA)

The pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so.
It is a moving spiritual experience for pilgrims who believe it absolves sins and brings them closer to God, while uniting the world’s more than 2 billion Muslims.  
For many Muslims, the Hajj is the only major journey that they make in their lives. Some spend years saving up money and waiting for a permit to embark on the journey in their 50s and 60s after raising their children.
The rituals during the Hajj largely commemorate the Quran’s accounts of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Prophet Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar — or Abraham and Ismael as they are named in the Bible.
Male pilgrims wear an ihram, two unstitched sheets of white cloth that resemble a shroud, while women dress in conservative, loose-fitting clothing with headscarves and forgo makeup and perfume. They have been making the ritual circuit around the Kaaba in the seven-minaret Grand Mosque since arriving in Makkah over recent days.
Saudi authorities have adopted security restrictions in and around Makkah, with checkpoints set up on roads leading to the city to prevent those who don’t have Hajj permits from reaching the holy sites.
Security authorities arrested many people who attempted to take pilgrims to Makkah who didn’t have Hajj permits, said Lt. Gen. Muhammad al-Bassami, head of the Hajj Security Committee. Most were expelled from the country, while travel agents faced jail for up to six months, according to the Interior Ministry.




Pilgrims head to Mina to spend the first day of Hajj. (SPA)

Many pilgrims whose documentations were not complete paid fines to be allowed into Makkah.  
On Friday, the pilgrims made their way to Mina, officially opening the Hajj. They then will move for a daylong vigil Saturday on Mount Arafat, a desert hill where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his final speech, known as the Farewell Sermon. Healthy pilgrims make the trip on foot, others use a bus or train.
The time of year when the Hajj takes place varies, given that it is set for five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar.
Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. When it falls in the summer months, temperatures can soar to over 40 Celsius. The Health Ministry has cautioned that temperatures at the holy sites could reach 48 Celsius.




Pilgrims head to Mina to spend the first day of Hajj. (SPA)

Many pilgrims carried umbrellas to use under the burning sun, and in Mina charities distributed cold water and cooling stations sprayed pilgrims with water to cool them down. The faithful set up in their tents, resting in the rows of cubicles and praying together to prepare for the coming rituals.
After Saturday’s warship in Arafat, pilgrims will travel a few kilometers to a site known as Muzdalifa to collect pebbles that they will use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.
Pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday, when financially able Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to poor people. Afterward, they return to Makkah for a final circumambulation, known as Farewell Tawaf.
In recent years, the annual pilgrimage has returned to its monumental scale after three years of heavy restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2023, more than 1.8 million pilgrims performed Hajj, approaching the level in 2019, when more than 2.4 million participated.


KSrelief distributes hygiene kits in Sudan, Syria 

Updated 29 sec ago
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KSrelief distributes hygiene kits in Sudan, Syria 

RIYADH: The Saudi aid agency KSrelief has distributed hygiene kits to displaced and needy families in Sudan and Syria, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The aid group gave out 620 kits to the needy in Sudan’s Sinar State, benefiting 3,100 people. The agency also handed out 435 shelter kits to 2,175 people in River Nile State, Sudan. 

KSrelief distributes 435 shelter bags in Sudan. (SPA)


In Syria, the group secured 796 hygiene kits in Idlib Governorate for 4,614 individuals from 769 families affected by last year’s earthquake.
The families in Idlib also received 769 food parcels.

KSrelief distributes 1,538 food parcels in Syria’s Idlib. (SPA)

 


Strawberry picking in Taif serves up a sweet summer escape

Updated 20 July 2024
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Strawberry picking in Taif serves up a sweet summer escape

  • Locations help create jobs during the summer season

TAIF: A strawberry farm in the rugged mountains of Al-Hada in Taif has emerged as a popular spot for visitors looking to escape the summer heat and appreciate the beauty of nature away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Arab News recently visited the Al-Hada strawberry farm to see how it captures the essence of the region’s natural beauty and vibrant culture.

At Al-Hada farm in Taif, visitors can pick ripe strawberries and feed wildlife such as ducks, geese and parrots to the soothing sound of a nearby waterfall. (Supplied)

Located high in Al-Hada’s tourist area, the strawberry farm welcomes visitors all year round. The experience allows visitors to pick fresh berries and feed wildlife such as ducks, geese and parrots to the soothing sound of a nearby waterfall.

Along with a modest garden for birds and a lake for ducks and turtles, the space includes stalls selling ice cream, hot drinks and strawberry juice, among other refreshments. It also features seating areas and a cottage.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Turki Al-Ahmadi, Al-Hada farm’s founder, told Arab News that he had designed the farm in a way that draws visitors beyond harvest season from April to June.

• Entry to the farm in Al-Hada costs SR35 ($9).

Turki Al-Ahmadi, the farm’s founder, told Arab News that he had designed the farm in a way that draws visitors beyond harvest season from April to June. Various facilities to provide fun and relaxation in nature have been installed to this end.

At Al-Hada farm in Taif, visitors can pick ripe strawberries and feed wildlife such as ducks, geese and parrots to the soothing sound of a nearby waterfall. (Supplied)

His son, Bandar Al-Ahmadi, said that beside picking strawberries and enjoying the fresh fruit, the family are keen to make the farm a space where adults and children can learn about various types of trees.

The farm showcases models of trees including pomegranate, fig, tangerine, quince, apple and mulberry, with information about their habitat, method of irrigation, places of cultivation, and other key details about their lifespan.

We were told by many relatives who visited the strawberry farm in Al-Hada that their trip to Taif governorate would not be complete if they did not (go for) a strawberry-picking activity.

Hamid Al-Subhi, Visitor

“We were told by many relatives who visited the strawberry farm in Al-Hada that their trip to Taif governorate would not be complete if they did not (go for) a strawberry-picking activity,” Hamid Al- Subhi told Arab News during his visit recently.

At Al-Hada farm in Taif, visitors can pick ripe strawberries and feed wildlife such as ducks, geese and parrots to the soothing sound of a nearby waterfall. (Supplied)

Al-Subhi, who drove from Makkah with his family, was fascinated by the farm’s facilities: “Picking your own strawberries at the farm is really something … my kids really enjoyed it and being on the top of the mountain with such a cool weather really makes our visit more enjoyable.”

Abdul Mohsin Al-Qadi, a visitor from Jeddah, said that the strawberry-picking experience was hugely rewarding for him and his family.

“It is a must-visit destination and a breathtaking view,” he said. “This is our first time visiting this farm and we really enjoyed all activities, from handpicking our strawberries to other family-friendly activities at the small garden for birds and the lake of ducks and turtles,” he said. “It is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the area while also learning about local culture and heritage.”

Entry to the farm in Al-Hada costs SR35 ($9). Strawberry farms can also be found in Abha, Hail and Qatif.

 

 


Heritage meets urban arts at Asir’s Al-Asabila Palaces

The heritage palaces in Asir boost economic activity by creating job opportunities during the summer season. (SPA)
Updated 21 July 2024
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Heritage meets urban arts at Asir’s Al-Asabila Palaces

  • Locations help create jobs during the summer season

RIYADH: The famous heritage palaces in the Asir region have become tourist destinations, offering a rich blend of history and culture.

The Saudi Press Agency reported that these sites also boost economic activity by creating job opportunities during the summer season.

The heritage palaces in Asir boost economic activity by creating job opportunities during the summer season. (SPA)

The Al-Asabila Palaces, which are situated in Al-Namas Governorate some 150 km south of Abha, have become a major attraction. Situated in the heart of Al-Namas, these palaces now draw hundreds of visitors daily, both tourists and locals, according to the SPA. Their popularity has surged following their inauguration by Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, chairman of the Asir Development Authority.

Visitors begin their tour of the palaces by shopping in areas dedicated to traditional fashions, antiques, and gifts that showcase the heritage and arts of the Asir region.

The heritage palaces in Asir boost economic activity by creating job opportunities during the summer season. (SPA)

They can then relax with coffee and hot drinks before exploring the Abs Palace, which has been restored to welcome guests.

Tourist guide Saleh Al-Shehri told the SPA: “At the beginning of the Saudi era the palaces served as the headquarters for various government agencies, including the court, and as venues for national events.”

FASTFACTS

• Al-Asabila Palaces are situated in Al-Namas governorate some 150 km south of Abha.

• These palaces now draw hundreds of visitors daily, both tourists and locals, Saudi Press Agency reports.

• The initiative to restore the palaces was taken by their owners and helped transform them into a tourist and cultural attraction, says tour guide.

He added that the initiative to restore the palaces was taken by their owners and helped transform them into a tourist and cultural attraction. This effort aligned with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which aims to revitalize the area and boost domestic tourism.

The heritage palaces in Asir boost economic activity by creating job opportunities during the summer season. (SPA)

Historian Amr bin Gharamah Al-Amrawi says that Al-Namas was established in 1363-1364. However, it only received the name Al-Namas about 150 years ago, being previously known as Al-Waad village.

It was later named after the trees in the surrounding areas and the adjacent valley, while the presence of a well called Al-Namasa also contributed to the village being renamed Al-Namas.

The heritage palaces in Asir boost economic activity by creating job opportunities during the summer season. (SPA)

The heritage site features several palaces, including Abs, Mishref, Turban, and Kharif. These structures, which range from two to three floors in height, are examples of the traditional construction style of the Asir region.

The palaces contain 60 rooms and span a total area of about 5,000 sq. meters. The exteriors are of white limestone, extracted from white quartz stone, while the roofs feature wood, leaves, and juniper. The interiors are finished with plaster mixed with clay.

The heritage palaces in Asir boost economic activity by creating job opportunities during the summer season. (SPA)

According to the SPA, the area is home to numerous archaeological sites from various periods, the most famous location being Al-Jahwah village, mentioned by the traveler Al-Hamdani, which is located east of the present-day Al-Namas Governorate.

Al-Amrawi added that the governorate contains Islamic inscriptions in mountains known as Al-Sijin, Al-Gharamah, Dhul-Ain, Ajama, and Qarn Al-Ghala.

 


Saudi Arabia’s Beit Hail festival attracts over 68,000 visitors

Festival highlights include a Hijazi village exhibit, alongside live demonstrations of traditional crafts. (SPA)
Updated 20 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Beit Hail festival attracts over 68,000 visitors

  • The festival includes folk art performances from the Hail and Yanbu regions, a “Made in Hail” pavilion, and an array of traditional foods prepared using heritage methods

RIYADH: The third Beit Hail heritage festival, themed “Your Home Away From Home,” has attracted more than 68,000 visitors since its opening at Aja Park earlier this month, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The 30-day event has drawn visitors of all ages from the region and beyond, offering a showcase of local culture and traditions.

Festival highlights include a Hijazi village exhibit, alongside live demonstrations of traditional crafts. (SPA)

Festival highlights include a Hijazi village exhibit featuring Yanbu’s heritage, alongside live demonstrations of traditional crafts.

Visitors can also observe artisans creating prayer beads, practicing Sadu weaving, crafting leather water bottles, and demonstrating embroidery techniques.

HIGHLIGHT

The 30-day event has drawn visitors of all ages from the region and beyond, offering a showcase of local culture and traditions.

Other showcased skills include hand-woven carpet production, crochet, and the crafting of traditional wooden doors with intricate plaster engravings typical of old Hail residences.

Festival highlights include a Hijazi village exhibit, alongside live demonstrations of traditional crafts. (SPA)

The festival also includes folk art performances from the Hail and Yanbu regions, a “Made in Hail” pavilion, and an array of traditional foods prepared using heritage methods.

Nayef Al-Salhoub, head of the organizing committee, told SPA: “Our goal is to connect younger generations with Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural legacy.”

The event runs daily from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., featuring a diverse program of folk activities.

Visitors to the festival value the opportunity to explore Saudi Arabia’s ancestral traditions with their children, learning about historical lifestyles and the ingenious use of natural materials in daily life, SPA added.

 


19,817 residency and labor violators arrested across KSA

Saudi police have arrested hundreds of illegals breaching country’s labor law. (SPA)
Updated 20 July 2024
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19,817 residency and labor violators arrested across KSA

  • A total of 1,389 individuals were caught attempting to enter the Kingdom, of whom 45 percent were Yemeni, 53 percent were Ethiopian and 2 percent were of other nationalities

RIYADH: In joint field campaigns across the Kingdom from July 11 to July 17, 19,817 people were arrested for violating residency, labor and border security laws.

This number included 12,436 violators of residency laws, 4,881 violators of border-security regulations and 2,500 violators of labor laws.

A total of 1,389 individuals were caught attempting to enter the Kingdom, of whom 45 percent were Yemeni, 53 percent were Ethiopian and 2 percent were of other nationalities. Additionally, 48 individuals were caught attempting to exit the Kingdom illegally.

Nine individuals were apprehended for involvement in transporting, harboring and employing violators and covering up for them.

A total of 17,067 violators — 15,394 men and 1,673 women — are currently being processed by the relevant authorities.