More than two million Muslims begin Hajj pilgrimage

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Muslim pilgrims touch the golden door of the the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. (AP/Amr Nabil)
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The annual Hajj pilgrimage draws millions of visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. (AP/Amr Nabil)
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Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. (AP/Amr Nabil)
Updated 09 August 2019

More than two million Muslims begin Hajj pilgrimage

  • In total some 2.5 million faithful, the majority from abroad, will undertake the pilgrimage this year
  • During the pilgrimage separate streams of men and women, grouped by nationality, will travel to Mina on foot or in buses

MAKKAH: More than two million Muslims begin the annual Hajj on Friday as the Saudi hosts seek to deter politicization of the pilgrimage against a backdrop of simmering Gulf tensions.
The Hajj, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, is one of Islam’s five pillars and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.
It consists of a series of religious rites which are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.
“All of the arms of state have been deployed (and) we are proud to serve as ‘God’s hosts’,” said security forces spokesman Bassam Attia.
In total some 2.5 million faithful, the majority from abroad, will undertake the pilgrimage this year, according to local media.
“More than 1.8 million visas were delivered online without the need for middlemen. It’s a success,” said Hajj ministry official Hatim bin Hassan Qadi.
“We feel cleansed by achieving this pillar of Islam and meeting people from across the world. It’s marvellous,” said Mohamed Jaafar, a 40-year-old Egyptian pilgrim.
“It’s an indescribable feeling. You have to live it to understand it,” said an Algerian in his fifties completing the pilgrimage for the first time.
“It’s a golden opportunity and moment,” said his female companion.
Makkah, built in a desert valley, is home to the Kaaba, a cube structure that is the focal point of Islam and draped in a gold-embroidered black cloth.
Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba, which is located in the Grand Mosque, and pilgrims walk around it seven times.
Worshippers will participate in weekly prayers late on Friday morning.
During the pilgrimage separate streams of men and women, grouped by nationality, will travel to Mina on foot or in buses provided by the authorities.
A district of Makkah, Mina sits in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains and is transformed each year into a vast encampment for pilgrims.
A total of “350,000 air-conditioned tents have been pitched,” said a Saudi official.

Worshippers will climb Mount Arafat, also known as the “Mount of Mercy,” for hours of prayers and Qur'an recitals.
After descending, they will gather pebbles and perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil.”
That marks the beginning of Eid Al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, marked on Sunday.
Pilgrims then return to the Grand Mosque to perform a final “tawaf” or walk around the Kaaba.
This year’s Hajj takes place to a backdrop of Gulf tensions following a series of attacks on tankers, the downing of drones and maritime traffic being intercepted.
Riyadh blames regional foe Tehran for the attacks on commercial shipping, accusations Iran vehemently denies.
Despite the absence of diplomatic ties between the two countries, some 88,550 Iranian pilgrims are due to take part in the Hajj this year according to the Tasnim news agency.
As in previous years, Saudi authorities have been at pains to stress that the Hajj is a religious event and have sought to prevent its politicization.
Riyadh claimed its two-year embargo on Doha — which includes restrictions on Qataris traveling to the kingdom — would not affect the pilgrimage.
But Hajj official Hassan Qadi acknowledged “very few Qataris have come to Makkah for the pilgrimage.”
Saudi’s Hajj ministry accused Qatar of “politicizing the Hajj and creating obstacles for Qatari pilgrims,” the SPA state news agency reported.
The scale of the pilgrimage presents vast security and logistical challenges, with tens of thousands of safety officers deployed.
Riyadh faced strong criticism in 2015 when some 2,300 worshippers were killed in the worst stampede in the gathering’s history.


A catering firm in Saudi Arabia tackles obesity from school level

Updated 19 October 2019

A catering firm in Saudi Arabia tackles obesity from school level

  • Rihab Hasanain set up Blooming Bs to provide schoolchildren with healthy meals
  • Blooming Bs strives to raise awareness of the obesity problem in the Kingdom

CAIRO: One Saudi woman was so concerned about her children’s unhealthy school-canteen meals that she decided to improve not only her family’s diet but also the eating habits of the entire nation.

Rihab Hasanain, spurred by the Kingdom’s growing obesity epidemic, set up the catering firm Blooming Bs to provide children with healthy lunch boxes and offer them advice on the importance of eating healthy food and being active.

The company’s name originates from the three Bs: Brain, body and box. The healthy boxes are provided to students and children aged two and above at schools, canteens, childcare centers and indoor playground centers.

Saudi Arabia has the Middle East’s second-highest obesity level after Kuwait with a 35.4 percent rating,  according to the CIA World Factbook.

Hasanain said that she wants to raise awareness of the region’s obesity problem, particularly among children.

“Childhood obesity is one of the greatest challenges facing health care systems worldwide,” she said.

“A number of factors have contributed to the problem, such as lack of childhood physical activities, and a low awareness around the prevalence of obesity and non-communicable diseases.”

Hasanain said that Blooming Bs’ mission is to combat childhood obesity in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries by promoting healthy eating habits.

Rihab Hasanain

This includes educating children and parents about the importance of healthy food and lifestyles, providing youngsters with healthy food choices, and creating a community of future healthy eaters.

In Saudi Arabia, a major contributing factor to the obesity crisis is the widespread availability of unhealthy food in school canteens, she said.

In 2016, the ambitious mother of two took matters into her own hands by establishing her commercial kitchen in the Kingdom’s capital Riyadh.

Using her personal savings, Hasanain hired a team of 10 multidisciplinary women, including public relations and administration staff, social-work specialists, early childhood educators and drivers.

She also leveraged her international connections to help secure support and endorsement from a number of prominent mentors.

“They are extraordinary individuals with an outstanding track record in social entrepreneurship, hospitality and, most importantly, health promotion and healthy school canteens,” Hasanain said.

Blooming Bs has since grown to cater to more than 20 day-care units and schools, as well as hundreds of individual families. The firm has now sold more than 45,000 items and served over 10,000 lunch meals since its launch.

Hasanain said that the company’s contracts and deliveries vary according to customer categories.

“Our products range from morning, lunch and afternoon meals for children to freshly squeezed juices and individual food items that can be sold individually at school canteens,” she said.

“We take the stress away for parents. Our clients are assured that our products are healthy because the meals are created based on the consultation of our in-house nutritionist.”

While Hasanain is well on her way to transforming the diets of children in Riyadh, she has her eye on the bigger picture.

The Blooming Bs entrepreneur also aims to solve childhood obesity in neighboring countries, such as the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.

“During Blooming Bs’ expansion, I have tried to develop a holistic viewpoint on children’s nutrition, leading to improved operation processes and ideas,” Hasanain said.

“Blooming Bs also wants to empower Saudi and Arab women by creating more job opportunities,” she added.

“Ultimately, I see my company becoming an upscale international brand, trusted by parents, schools and governments.”

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• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.