MINA: Up to a million Muslim worshippers traveled on Thursday from the Grand Mosque in Makkah to a vast encampment in the Mina Valley as the Hajj pilgrimage neared its high point.
The pilgrims walked or took buses the 7 km to Mina, where they spent the night in air-conditioned white tents.
“I feel great. This is all to be closer to God,” said Khaled bin Jomaa, 44, from Tunisia, who made the journey on foot carrying an umbrella and a prayer mat.
The worshippers are preparing for the highlight of the Hajj on Friday — ascending Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon.
Pilgrims will pray and recite the Qur’an for several hours at the mountain, and sleep near by.
On Saturday, they will gather pebbles and perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil.”
All worshippers are fully vaccinated and submitted negative PCR tests, but health chiefs are taking no chances.
At Mina, the pilgrims were handed small bags containing masks and sanitizer, and ambulances were parked at the camp’s entrances.
The summer heat is also a challenge, with temperatures of 42°C. “We have taken all precautions. We have doctors here ready to intervene in case needed,” said Ahmad Al-Zinani, a camp manager.
Among the pilgrims is star Test cricketer Adil Rashid, the England bowler. “It’s a big thing for my faith and for myself,” he said. “I knew that I needed to do it while I’m young, strong, and healthy.”
Another pilgrim is the Indian former actress and model Sana Khan, 33, who gave up the entertainment business in 2020 to devote her life to Islam.
Khan was in Mina on Thursday with her husband, Muslim scholar Anas Saiyad.
“Can’t wait to experience the most beautiful journey of my life,” she said. “I don’t have words to express my feelings. May the almighty Allah accept our Hajj and make it easy.”
For the first time, many women from overseas are taking part in the Hajj unaccompanied after Saudi authorities last year removed the requirement for a male guardian.
Making the pilgrimage “gave me confidence ... it empowered me and made me stronger,” said Suhail Mohammed, a mother of three from Egypt. She advised other women: “Come and don’t be scared.”
Faten Abdel Moneim, 65, from Egypt, said: “For those who are able to, don’t lose the opportunity. This is a spiritual joy that cannot be described. You are in the house of God, what more could you ask for?”
Mount of Arafat
Known as Jabal Al-Rahma and also called Mount of Mercy, the 454-meter-high granodiorite hill located around 20 km to the southeast of Makkah is significant for Muslims as Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon at the foot of the mountain. On Dhul Hijjah 9 (July 8 this year), pilgrims travel from Mina to Arafat to pray, supplicate, and seek forgiveness from Allah.
Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine
Kingdom’s track record belies lack of recognition of its donations for displaced Ukrainian refugees
A $10 million aid package has just been signed off by the UNHCR, WHO and Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief
Updated 15 August 2022
JEDDAH: The perception that Saudi Arabia is not helping Ukrainians affected by the war with Russia is completely at odds with the reality.
The firmness of the Kingdom’s commitment to supporting refugees and resolving the conflict has been evident since the outbreak of hostilities. Aid pledges have been matched by donations that are already making a big difference.
A $10 million Saudi humanitarian package for war-displaced Ukrainians has just been signed off by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and Saudi Arabia’s leading humanitarian aid agency.
A delegation from @KSRelief, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, headed by His Excellency Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabiah visited UNHCR's warehouse in Rzeszow, SE, from where relief items are dispatched across the country and to Ukraine. @UNHCR_GCC, @khaledkhalifapic.twitter.com/xTtmyoiVfi
About half of the $10 million grant has been allocated for distribution through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief).
In April, King Salman directed KSrelief to provide this amount of support for immediate assistance and give “urgent medical and shelter aid” to Ukrainian refugees, giving priority to those arriving in Poland.
The visit was followed by a distribution of relief items to refugee families from Ukraine living in the commune of Głogów Małopolski, and a meeting with officials who thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its generous support. pic.twitter.com/M9l3Kar0pG
“Thank you very much, and thanks to the center for helping us. The situation is as you can see,” a Ukrainian resident of a refugee center told Al-Arabiya news channel.
“All of us came from Ukraine, and we were in a very bad way. Thanks to you, our situation has improved. Thanks a lot, and we wish peace to the whole world.”
At the Poland-Ukraine border, Al-Rabeeah lauded the collaboration between the WHO, KSrelief, and the Polish government. “We highly appreciate the partnership with the WHO. Our work together has made great support to refugees and those in need here and elsewhere,” he said in a video released by WHO Poland.
The Kingdom’s support for Ukrainian refugees is an extension of its well-known humanitarian efforts in more than 85 countries, yet several reports have hinted that Saudi Arabia has picked sides in the conflict because of its ties to Russia as a fellow OEPC+ member.
Despite the political and humanitarian initiatives taken by the Kingdom, urging all parties to come to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, the Kingdom’s efforts have been viewed with skepticism in some quarters.
A March report by the Wilson Center, a US government-linked public policy think tank, claimed that Saudi Arabia “has decided to side with Russia” and “chose Putin over Biden,” accusing the Kingdom of playing political games to keep oil prices high.
The remarks came despite the Kingdom’s repeated offers to both mediate between the warring parties and increase oil production along with neighboring Gulf countries.
The differences between the Western and Arab positions on the question of how to end the war have not stopped either side from addressing the humanitarian emergency.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has reiterated that though ending the ongoing war in Ukraine is no easy feat, the Kingdom has treated the issue just as any ongoing crisis in the region, stressing that human suffering is the same in all conflicts and that violence is not the solution.
In March, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kingdom was ready to exert all efforts to mediate between the two nations.
In May, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the crisis.
Less than a week later, Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during the latter’s visit to Riyadh, where he underscored the importance of reaching a political solution to achieve security and stability for all involved.
Though scant details on Lavrov’s visit and meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council ministers were released, the trip was still misinterpreted as evidence of Saudi Arabia’s support for Russia, even though the Kingdom and other Gulf states had opted to stay neutral, treating the war in Ukraine in “a fair context” and providing aid to the needy.
In June, Prince Faisal bin Farhan clarified the Kingdom’s position further: “Our stance as Gulf countries regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis is unified,” he said on June 1 during a speech at the opening of the 152nd session of the Ministerial Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
“Today we had two fruitful meetings with the Russian and Ukrainian ministers, during which we stated our unified stance regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and its negative consequences, namely the food security of the affected countries and the world.”
Saudi Arabia’s decision to remain neutral and prioritize humanitarian engagement during the war also ought to be viewed in the context of public opinion. In a recent Arab News-YouGov poll, of the more than 1,000 Saudis who were asked for their opinion, 14 percent blamed US President Joe Biden for the conflict while 21 percent blamed NATO.
Throughout the conflict, more than 40 countries, organizations, and individual donors have made pledges and commitments, some of which have made their way to the 6.3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine as well as those who remained. But there is a striking gap between pledged and delivered support.
Thus far, most Western governments have given priority to military assistance over humanitarian aid.
According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the US has pledged $23.8 billion in military aid, the highest number to date, but has only allocated $8.9 billion in humanitarian assistance.
According to the center, that number has since increased but by a relatively small percentage. Similarly, the EU pledged $12.3 billion in military aid but just $1.4 billion has been siphoned for humanitarian response and aid packages.
Since the outbreak of the conflict, Western and Arab governments have been under no illusion that the need for a resolution of the conflict is no less pressing than addressing the humanitarian emergency.
Last month, President Biden visited Jeddah and met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two sides discussed several topics of concern, including energy, security and the crisis in Ukraine.
Soon after Biden left the Kingdom, Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke to CNBC to set the record straight. “We have said from the very beginning, we supported the UN General Assembly Resolution and the inadmissibility abuse of force, about the sovereignty of nations and respect for that,” he said.
“We have called for a peaceful resolution to this; stop the fighting and get to the negotiating table and work out your differences peacefully.
“The concern that we have is that escalation on one side leads to escalation on the other side and before you know it, things are more likely to spin out of control and we all pay the price.”
For good measure, Al-Jubeir said: “We’ve reached out to both Russia and Ukraine. We’ve urged them to move towards a ceasefire settlement and their conflict peacefully. We continue to be engaged with them as are a number of other countries, and our hope is that they will be able to recognize that it’s better to argue across the table from each other than fight across the battlefield, because of the unintended consequences of war and conflict.”
Thank you H.E Dr. Abdullah Alrabeeah and @KSRelief for witnessing and discussing today UNHCR’s support to refugees in Poland & taking time to listen to refugee families from Ukraine in Warsaw. pic.twitter.com/vXlN3gWoW6
Meanwhile, when it comes to humanitarian giving, Saudi Arabia’s pledges continue to be matched by its actions.
On Friday, accompanied by Saad Al-Saleh, the Saudi ambassador to Poland, KSrelief’s Al-Rabeeah visited the UNHCR’s warehouse facilities in Rzeszow in Poland. They jointly inspected the aid already provided as part of the Kingdom’s $10 million grant to support Ukrainian refugees.
Druze: the great survivors
How the world's most secretive faithhas endured for a thousand years
Saudi Crown Prince receives call from Pakistani PM
Updated 54 min 45 sec ago
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call on Sunday from Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, prime minister of Pakistan, Saudi Press Agency reported.
During the call, they reviewed the brotherly and historical relations between the Kingdom and Pakistan, in addition to discussing opportunities for cooperation between the two countries and ways to enhance them in various fields.
Also on Sunday, King Salman and the crown prince congratulated Pakistani President Arif Alvi on Saturday on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day.
“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has sent a cable of congratulations to President Dr. Arif Alvi, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on the anniversary of his country’s Independence Day,” SPA said.
In his message, Prince Mohammed “wished the President constant good health and happiness and the government and friendly people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan steady progress and prosperity.”
Hundreds of women benefit from Saudi virtual health sessions
The sessions are provided in cooperation with the Saudi Charitable Association of Diabetes to the university’s students and employees
Updated 14 August 2022
RIYADH: Almost 330 women have benefited from virtual health sessions provided through the Nutrition Unit at Princess Nourah bint Abdul Rahman University, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The sessions aim to highlight diabetes prevention, adopting a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of infection, spreading awareness about diabetes, the stages of diabetes, correcting misconceptions, answering inquiries, and providing the necessary moral support and awareness for those with diabetes by opening a reliable advice channel.
The sessions are provided in cooperation with the Saudi Charitable Association of Diabetes to the university’s students and employees.
Every month, the clinic hosts an association member who gives medical consultations and holds awareness sessions.
Families of university employees who wish to benefit from the counseling sessions can also attend.
The virtual clinic contributes to achieving the university's strategic goals of providing a campus life that supports people’s health and well-being for better productivity.
The efforts come within the framework of cooperation between the university and organizations that seek to achieve the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 by keeping pace with the needs of female students, promoting health, and moral support.
Flight SV5712 from Madinah airport, carrying 347 Hajj pilgrims, was bid farewell on Sunday
Saudia’s Hajj plan began with arrivals to the Kingdom on June 6 and continued with departures on July 14
Updated 14 August 2022
RIYADH: The Kingdom’s flag carrier Saudia concluded its global Hajj 2022 transport operation with a flight to Ahmedabad, India on Sunday.
Flight SV5712 from Madinah’s Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport, carrying 347 pilgrims, was bid farewell by Saudia’s chief Hajj and Umrah officer Amer Alkhushail.
Saudia’s operational plan for Hajj began with arrivals to the Kingdom on June 6 and continued with departures on July 14.
More than 350,000 pilgrims were transported over the two phases, of which 120,000 traveled on 300 Hajj flights. A further 230,000 pilgrims traveled on scheduled and additional flights.
The airline revealed that 280,000 pieces of luggage were handled as part of its free “luggage first” service that was launched this year.
As part of the free service, pilgrims’ luggage was collected from their hotel or other accommodation in Jeddah, Makkah or Madinah 24 hours before their departure and delivered to the correct airport baggage center where it was checked in before they arrived at the airport.
OIC chief receives Somalia’s special presidential envoy in Jeddah
Updated 15 August 2022
JEDDAH: Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Hissein Brahim Taha received Special Envoy of the Somali President for Humanitarian Affairs and Drought Abdul Rahman Abdul Shakour at the headquarters of the OIC’s General Secretariat in Jeddah on Sunday.
The envoy delivered a written message from the president of Somalia to Taha.
The secretary-general said that the OIC is deeply concerned about the drought and famine in Somalia.
Taha reaffirmed the commitment of the General Secretariat to implement the resolution adopted to alleviate the suffering of the Somali people and issued by the 48th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers held in Islamabad, Pakistan, earlier this year. He called for intensified efforts to assist those affected by the drought.