News / Middle East

Hajj Begins Amid Worries About Health and Regional Turmoil

Hajj Begins Amid Worries About Health and Regional Turmoili
X
October 14, 2013
An estimated 1.5 to 2 million Muslims are on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj. That’s far fewer than last year, as Saudi authorities seek to keep the ritual isolated both from tensions in other Middle Eastern countries and from a health threat that has killed more than 50 people in the kingdom. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky has more.
TEXT SIZE - +
An estimated 1.5 to 2 million Muslims are on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj. That’s far fewer than last year, as Saudi authorities seek to keep the ritual isolated both from tensions in other Middle Eastern countries and from a health threat that has killed more than 50 people in the kingdom.

After circling the Kaaba - the holiest spot in Islam -  the pilgrims converged on a hilltop where Islam’s Prophet Muhammad called on Muslims to unite some 14 centuries ago.

But with Muslims today locked in conflict in parts of the Middle East, this pilgrim from Syria offered his own plea for unity.

"We evacuated our houses and our children got killed, so I pray to God on this great day to swiftly lift our country's suffering," he said.

Still, the Hajj appeared to begin without major disruptions.  Some people might have political grievances, says Scottish terrorism expert Stephen Vertigans via Skype.

“But the vast majority of people going there are going there ostensibly on religious grounds, to come together with other Muslims, to express their faith and to go through the different rituals," said Vertigans.

Even without political tensions, it’s an enormous challenge in crowd control  - with past years marred by stampedes and a terrorist takeover in 1979.  

This year, a respiratory virus centered in the Gulf kept many pilgrims away. The virus has killed more than 50 people in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government also reduced quotas because of expansion work at the Grand Mosque.

But the Saudis will be under pressure to lift the quotas and give as many Muslims as possible the opportunity to go, says Vertigans.

“If they are reducing that opportunity for political grounds rather than health and safety grounds, they would become subjected to huge criticism within Muslim communities and Muslim nation-states," he said.

The Hajj ends with the Eid Al Adha holiday, and Muslims around the world celebrate it with feasts and gift-giving.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid