Millions of Muslims arrive at Mecca in Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage

TWO million Muslims from around the world have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage this week.

Once in Mecca — the site of Islam’s holiest place of worship — they will be reminded that the ruling Al Saud family is the only custodian of this place.

Large portraits of the king and the country’s founder hang in hotel lobbies across the city. A massive clock tower bearing the name of King Salman’s predecessor flashes fluorescent green lights at worshippers below.

A large new wing of the Grand Mosque in Mecca is named after a former Saudi king, and one of the mosque’s entrances is named after another.

Muslim pilgrims touch the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Picture: AP Photo/Khalil HamraSource:AP

It’s just one of the many ways that Saudi Arabia uses its oversight of the Hajj to bolster its standing in the Muslim world — and to spite its foes, from Iran and Syria to Qatar. Its archrival, the Shiite power Iran, has in turn tried to use the hajj to undermine the kingdom.

The Hajj has long been a part of Saudi Arabia’s politics.

For nearly 100 years, the ruling Al Saud family has decided who gets in and out of Mecca, setting quotas for pilgrims from various countries, facilitating visas through Saudi embassies abroad and providing accommodation for hundreds of thousands of people in and around Mecca.

The kingdom has received credit for its management of the massive crowds that descend upon Mecca each year — and blame when things go wrong at the Hajj.

Two million Muslim pilgrims have flocked to Saudi Arabia. Picture: AFP/Karim SahibSource:AFP

All able-bodied Muslims are required to perform the pilgrimage once in a lifetime. Saudi kings, and the Ottoman rulers of the Hijaz region before them, all adopted the honorary title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a reference to sites in Mecca and Medina.

“Whoever controls Mecca and Medina has tremendous soft power,” said Ali Shihabi, executive director of the Arabia Foundation, a pro-Saudi centre in Washington.

“Saudi Arabia has been extremely careful from day one not to restrict any Muslim’s access to hajj so they never get accused of using Hajj for political purposes.”

The Syrian government, however, says Saudi authorities continue to place restrictions on Syrian citizens looking to take part in the hajj.

Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic ties with President Bashar Assad’s government and since 2012, requires all Syrians seeking to make the Hajj to obtain visas in third countries through the “Syrian High Hajj Committee,” which is controlled by the Syrian National Coalition, an opposition political group.

Syrian children circumambulate a model of the Kaaba in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, during an event to teach children the rites of pilgrimage. Picture: AFP/Abdulmonam EassaSource:AFP

The Hajj became further entangled in politics following the fallout between Saudi Arabia and Qatar when the kingdom and three other Arab countries cut all diplomatic and transport links with the small Gulf state this year.

In a surprise this month, Saudi Arabia announced it would open its border for Qatari pilgrims seeking to perform the Hajj and that King Salman would provide flights and accommodation to Qataris during the Hajj.

The Saudis, however, announced the goodwill measures unilaterally and did so after meeting with Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, a Qatari royal family member who resides outside Qatar and whose branch of the family was ousted in a coup more than four decades ago.

“Bringing out a senior member of the Qatari royal family member was a political coup really,” Shihabi said.

Indian vendors stand next to their goats for sale at a livestock market ahead of the sacrificial Eid al-Adha festival in the old quarters of New Delhi. Picture: AFP/Sajjad HussainSource:AFP

Others have gone further, saying that by promoting Sheikh Abdullah, the Saudis were attempting to delegitimise Qatar’s current emir.

While the Hajj is a main pillar of Islam, the custodianship of its holy sites is a pillar of the Al Saud family’s legitimacy and power. Iran has consistently tried to call that into question.

Two years ago, a stampede and crush of pilgrims killed at least 2426 people, according to an Associated Press count.

Iran, which lost 464 pilgrims in the stampede, immediately used the disaster to call for an independent body to take over administering the Hajj.

Those calls were vehemently rejected by Saudi Arabia, which accused Iran of politicising the Hajj.

Muslim pilgrims pray in front of the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Picture: AP Photo/Khalil HamraSource:AP

Saudi Arabia deploys over 100,000 troops to oversee 2 million Hajj pilgrims travelling to Mecca

Nearly 2 million Muslims prepare to travel to Mecca on Wednesday, 31 August as Saudi Arabian authorities beef up security with more than 100,000 troops – File photoAhmad Gharabli/AFP
Saudi Arabian authorities have started welcoming Hajj pilgrims who have travelled from across the world to undertake the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

They have deployed more than 100,000 security personnel to protect the nearly two million pilgrims, who are scheduled to travel to the holy shrine on Wednesday (31 August), the interior ministry announced in a press conference on Tuesday.

Briefing reporters on the ongoing preparations for the annual pilgrimage, Interior Ministry spokesperson Major General Mansour Al-Turki said that 1.72 million pilgrims have already reached the kingdom, and they will be joined by some 200,000 people from within the country in Mecca.

He confirmed that hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have been denied entry into the kingdom for carrying inadequate or fake travel documents.

“More than 450,000 Hajj violators were returned after verifying they either lacked the proper permits or the ones they thought were legal turned out fake,” Al-Turki was quoted by Al Arabiya as saying. The spokesman also said that their forces returned 208,236 buses carrying illegal pilgrims.

Additionally, 97 fake agencies were caught and fined for providing unlicensed permits to pilgrims, he noted.

The Hajj pilgrimage is an annual event in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims travel to a holy shrine in Mecca, called the Holy Kaaba. The worshipers perform circumambulation of the Kaaba and offer prayers at the Holy Mosque. The pilgrims later head to Mina where they spend the rest of the day in prayers before travelling to Mount Arafat, regarded as the ultimate rite in performing the Hajj.

Saudi authorities have reportedly hired 51,700 Saudi and expat employees in Mina to serve the pilgrims during their stay at the tent city.

5 Quran Memorization Tips for Busy People

I memorized the entire Quran almost 17 years ago, but it wasn’t a smooth-sailing experience.

I’ve learned a lot through experience, and I’m now here to share with you the best Quran memorization tips that worked for my busy lifestyle, and Insha’Allah they will help you reach your Quran memorization goals too.

Tip #1:
Understand that Quran Memorization is a lifelong journey.

Many people think that once you’ve finished memorizing the Quran, all the hard work is done. This is a myth. Retaining what you’ve memorized is a lifelong journey and if you don’t consistently review your memorizations, it will slip away.

Abu Musa narrated that our beautiful Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:

“Keep on reciting the Quran, for, by Him in Whose Hand my life is, Quran runs away (is forgotten) faster than camels that are released from their tying ropes.”
~ Sahih Al-Bukhari

In your intention to memorize the Quran,  embrace the mindset that it will be a lifelong journey with the word of Allah SWT, so enjoy it :).

 

Tip #2:
Start small to build a Quran memorization habit & focus on weekly goals

Many folks start out with really big goals such as, “I want to memorize Surah Al-Baqarah” or “I want to memorize Surah Al-Kahf”. Masha’Allah these are really great goals.

However, for the beginner, it’s crucial to first build a memorization foundation before memorizing some of the longer Surahs.

I would highly recommend you pick one Surah that you’ve always wanted to memorize. If you are just starting out on your journey, I would advise you to pick a smaller Surah — perhaps something from the Juz 29 or 30.

Let’s say you want to memorize Surah Al-Mulk, which is roughly 2.5 pages long. You need to start off small and be realistic. Be honest with yourself in regards to how much you can memorize on a weekly basis. Try these steps to begin:

Set a very small weekly goal (e.g. memorizing 3 ayahs of Surah Al-Mulk). Don’t worry about memorizing the ENTIRE SURAH yet. Make sure to achieve your weekly goals on a consistent basis FIRST.
After achieving your small weekly goal for a few weeks, slowly increase your weekly goal (e.g. 5 ayahs per week).
Remember to review what you’ve memorized on a weekly basis. You can review them in your solah, while driving to work, before your sleep, etc to make sure you retain what you’ve learned.
Make sure to celebrate each time you achieve your weekly goals! #Alhamdulillah
You don’t have to memorize everyday. You can take 2 or so days off as long as you ACHIEVE your weekly goals.
Keep in mind that Quran memorization is not a one-size fits all model. Not everybody can memorize a few pages or even half a page per week. Stick with what you can realistically memorize per week and slowly increase your goal, Insha’Allah.

 

Don’t overstretch yourself and make sure you initially keep your weekly goals really small and achievable. You’ll eventually get super motivated once you start accomplishing your weekly goals in a consistent fashion.

Tip #3:
Double down on Quran memorization techniques that work best for you

People around the world memorize Quran utilizing different methods. During the Prophet Muhammad SAW’s time, the Quranic words were written on leaflets and people conversed in Fusha as well, which is the language of the Quran.

Eventually, the Quran was compiled into the Mushaf Uthmani and people around the world utilized rote memorization to memorize Quran. Fast forward many many years later, audio recording emerged and people were absolutely amazed with the audio recording of the Athan in Makkah. Shortly after, the famous Qari reciters were asked to record their recitation of the entire Quran!

When people heard these recitations, some people were able to pick up on the melody and realized they were more auditory learners, and so they utilized this method to memorize Quran.

Simultaneously, you had folks in parts of the world such as Mauritania and other West African neighbors, whereby the students of Quran write the ayahs on a wooden tablet to assist with their memorization & retention Subhan’Allah!

As time has evolved, people realized that certain memorization techniques work really well for them. Some students memorize more effectively in early mornings while others can memorize much better at night.

Again, it’s not a one-size fits all model. You have to figure out what works best for you – rote memorization, audio, writing, a combination, etc. Experiment with the multi-sensory memorization techniques in the Quran Companion app to see what works best for you.

When you learn what works really well for you, double down on that approach to improve your memorization, Insha’Allah!

Related: Quran Memorization Tips for Auditory Learners

Tip #4:
Don’t stress out too much when you make mistakes

Don’t stress out too much if you get so many mistakes.

After completing the memorization of the entire Quran almost two decades ago, I realized one simple fact: Every single memorizer/reviser makes mistakes no matter how many times he/she has revised the Quran.

Everybody needs to come to terms with this reality. Don’t beat yourself too much if you’ve been revising for several years and you still find yourself making a lot of mistakes. It’s okay.

For some reason there’s this negative stigma around making a lot of mistakes, as if it means you are failing miserably. That’s not true at all. You will make mistakes. Don’t let it get you down. Just make sure you work hard to minimize mistakes and know that Allah SWT rewards on effort

Tip #5:
Revision is the key to success

Revision is the key to memorizing Quran!

Many times people start memorizing more and more verses from the Quran. However, around 95% of the time, people end up quitting.

What happens is that people focus only on memorization and not revision. They put in massive effort to memorize many Ayahs but unfortunately, they can’t really recall them. When that happens, a person gets highly discouraged and he/she feels like they can never memorize Quran.

Don’t worry we all go through this phase. In fact, when I ‘finished’ memorizing the Quran around 17 years ago, I forgot many Surahs from the Quran. I didn’t focus on revision at all and as a result, I wasn’t technically a Hafidh (Hafiz). It was only after I worked on revision was I able to become a Hafidh, with Allah’s permission.

If you’re always on the go, try using Quran Companion as a revision tool to help you stay on track. Many people find the audio looping function as a great way to help them with revision, and you can also try the upcoming recording feature to help you revise.

7 tips for improving your relationship with the Quran

Are you one of those people who rarely touches the Quran? Or do you read daily, but don’t find it is having the impact on you that it should? Whatever the case may be, these are some simple tips that can help you connect with the Quran.

1. Before you touch it, check your heart

The key to really benefiting from the Quran is to check your heart first, before you even touch Allah’s book. Ask yourself, honestly, why you are reading it. Is it to just get some information and to let it drift away from you later? Remember that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was described by his wife as a “walking Quran”: in other words, he didn’t just read and recite the Quran, he lived it.

2. Do your Wudu (ablution)

Doing your Wudu is good physical and mental preparation to remind you you’re not reading just another book. You are about to interact with God, so being clean should be a priority when communicating with Him.

3. Read only 5 minutes everyday

Too often, we think we should read Quran for at least one whole hour. If you aren’t in the habit of reading regularly, this is too much. Start off with just five minutes daily. If you took care of step one, Insha Allah (God willing), you will notice that those five minutes will become ten, then half an hour, then an hour, and maybe even more!

4. Make sure you understand what you’ve read

Five minutes of reading the Quran in Arabic is good, but you need to understand what you’re reading. Make sure you have a good translation of the Quran in the language you understand best. Always try to read the translation of what you’ve read that day .

5. Remember, the Quran is more interactive than a CD

In an age of “interactive” CD-Roms and computer programs, a number of people think books are passive and boring. But the Quran is not like that. Remember that when you read Quran, you are interacting with Allah. He is talking to you, so pay attention.

6. Don’t just read, listen too

There are now many audio cassettes and CDs of the Quran, a number of them with translations as well. This is great to put on your walkman or your car’s CD or stereo as you drive to and from work. Use this in addition to your daily Quran reading, not as a replacement for it.

7. Make Dua (supplication)

Ask Allah to guide you when you read the Quran. Your aim is to sincerely, for the love of Allah, interact with Him by reading, understanding and applying His blessed words. Making Dua to Allah for help and guidance will be your best tool for doing this.

Family bonds survive India-Pakistan split, but for how long?

NEW DELHI –  I was 9 the first time I traveled on an airplane, in 1986. We were headed to Pakistan, a country that was foreign yet held a part of us.

For my younger brothers, the flight from New Delhi to Lahore meant little glasses of fizzy drinks and an endless supply of little, individually wrapped chocolates.

My mother was mentally preparing herself for what she thought would be one of her last visits with the beloved grandmother who had raised her — her “badi ammi.”

My own grandmother, whom I call ammi, says she was thinking of too many things and nothing at all. Just the anticipation of only her third meeting in over a decade with all her siblings and her mother.

I spent the flight trying to conjure up Pakistan in my head. I imagined white, marble-domed mosques, women in flowing hijabs. All the stereotypes of a Muslim country came to mind.

That’s not quite what I encountered at Lahore airport, where an aunt greeted us in slim jeans, a chiffon blouse, a Princess Diana haircut and impossibly huge sunglasses.

Pakistan: so foreign for a Muslim like me raised in chaotically heterogeneous India. Pakistan: so deeply familiar to a north Indian like me, with the same warmth verging on over-familiarity, the loud humor and obsession with good food.

Lahore: A city so much like New Delhi and so close. If I jumped in my car and drove fast I could cover the 400 kilometers (250 miles) in six or seven hours. But Lahore is in fact very distant because of the nearly insurmountable wall of mistrust between India and Pakistan.

On both sides of this imaginary wall live hundreds of thousands of families like mine.

___

When the British finally departed the Indian subcontinent in 1947, after nearly 200 years, they left it split in two. On Aug. 14 of that year, Pakistan was born to provide, in theory at least, a home to the region’s Muslims. A day later, India awoke to freedom.

The euphoria of independence was short-lived. Millions of Muslims, unsure and afraid of what awaited them in largely Hindu India, traveled towards Pakistan. Millions of Hindus and Sikhs, similarly terrified and uncertain, made the journey in the opposite direction. Hundreds of thousands never made it across.

The violence that followed Partition is one of the darkest chapters of the region’s history. Cinema, literature and journalism have captured some of the horrors of that time as Muslim and Hindu mobs attacked the other. There are stories of trains full of corpses arriving in both India and Pakistan. Of terrified refugees leaving everything they owned and fleeing with just the clothes on their backs. Of the rivers of Punjab province, the main border crossing, running red with the blood of the massacred.

My family did not make those terrible journeys.

My family’s story is one of a gradual migration made ever more final as hostilities between India and Pakistan made border crossings increasingly hard.

The pain of this separation is what my grandmother calls “a wound that never quite heals.”

She lives in New Delhi. Her three sisters and four brothers live in cities across Pakistan. Their adult relationships have been largely sustained by memories of their childhood in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and too-brief visits made complicated by impossible visa rules.

Very few things bring tears to my stoic grandmother’s eyes. Talking about this loss of family makes her voice shake and her eyes water.

___

My ammi’s younger sisters gradually moved to Pakistan from 1952 onward. They had been engaged before Partition, as very young girls, to young men who were from parts of the subcontinent that became Pakistan. They eventually got married and they moved. The brothers went to visit, found good jobs and in some cases wives and chose to stay on.

Despite the bitter history of Partition and the two wars India and Pakistan fought over the Himalayan region of Kashmir in 1947 and 1965, travel was at first relatively easy, my grandmother remembers.

Her youngest sister came and stayed with her for three years in the ’60s. Two of her three children were born in India. Only tight budgets and young families kept them from seeing each other more often.

That changed in 1971, when the South Asian rivals fought their third war in what was then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Indian troops supported those fighting for Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan. Unlike the first two wars, which ended in cease-fires, Pakistani troops surrendered to the Indian army.

For several years after that, all visits ceased.

“Letters stopped coming. All news stopped,” my grandmother remembers. “It was a really painful time.”

___

My ammi visited Pakistan for the first time with her father — my great-grandfather — for a family wedding in 1970. She returned with her four young children.

Her father had intended to return a few months later, but instead he died in a country that he had resisted traveling to for decades.

My ammi could not return in time for his funeral or even the week after. Because of the time needed to get visas and arrange travel, it was a full month before she made it back to Pakistan for the Islamic ritual that marks the 40th day after a death.

By the time she took the train back to India, the war in Bangladesh had broken out.

“There were three of us, me and two very kind strangers who made the journey back to Lucknow in trains full of soldiers,” she says.

It would be almost eight years before she would see her sisters and mother again. When her oldest daughter, my mother, got married in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, no Pakistani relative could get a visa to come.

The extreme diplomatic closures of the mid-’70s eventually eased, but travel never became as easy as it once was.

There are no tourist visas between the two countries. Divided families like mine can apply for visas but are not assured of getting them; it helps to know the right people.

With visas, divided families can visit each other’s countries once a year for one month. They can visit three cities, reporting your entry and exit each time to local police. And they must visit them in the order listed on the visa application.

And after decades spent enduring this separation and distance from her family, now a new problem has arrived for my grandmother — old age.

Travel, even when it can be arranged, is now daunting for my ammi and several of her siblings, now in their 70s and early 80s.

“My passport is about to expire. Will you get it renewed for me?” she asked me recently. “I really want to go and see Mehmooda” — a sister who lives in Lahore.

Then mostly to herself she said: “It’s foolishness, of course. I really am not up to going through airports anymore.”

I want to promise her that I will take her on one last visit.

But I don’t.

___

For my grandmother and her siblings, a generation raised on the idea that relationships could be nurtured for long periods on the simple sustenance of letters, physical distance has brought pain, but not an emotional distance.

When my ammi last saw her youngest sister, six years ago at my youngest brother’s wedding in New Delhi, there was plenty of family gossip shared.

But as a sense of shared family history fades, so do the bonds.

“The young people and the other relationships they formed … they know nothing about us and we know nothing about them,” my ammi said to me a few weeks ago, when I asked her what made her saddest about the separation of her family.

I last visited Pakistan more than 10 years ago for a family wedding.

I met a cousin from “that side of the family” two months ago in London. We both knew the meeting would make our parents happy.

We had a cup of tea. An hour was pleasantly spent.

But I knew it, and perhaps so did he. My two daughters and his twin boys most likely will never spend even that hour together