In what is regarded as the largest annual gathering of people in the world, the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah is set to get underway this weekend.
Muslims pilgrims from different parts of the globe have thronged Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, preparatory to the commencement of the final rites of the annual pilgrimage.
From Nigeria, the last batch of pilgrims for the 2018 Hajj left for Saudi Arabia on Friday the 17th.
According to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, the last flight conveyed 200 passengers and taxied out of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, at approximately 19:05hrs.
On board the aircraft were five male pilgrims from Kaduna and 195 other passengers comprising: 10 clerical assistants, 14 medical officers, 149 NAHCON officials and 22 other passengers.
The flight landed in Jeddah International Airport, bringing the total number of Nigerian pilgrims airlifted to Saudi Arabia to about 38,000.
The Hajj pilgrimage is an Islamic religious act, enjoined on every able-bodied Muslim at least once in a lifetime, provided they can afford it and are sound of health.
Additional data published by Saudi General Authority for Statistics indicates that a total of 13,909 international flights arrived in the Kingdom with pilgrims as at 16:22 hours on Friday, August 17.
Nearly 1.658 million pilgrims had also been registered to perform the 2018 Hajj.
Every year in the month of Dhul Hijja, Muslims gather in the Ka’abah in the middle of the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Makkah, to commemorate the life and times of three Prophets-Ibrahim (Abraham) Isma’il (Ismael) and Muhammad, whom adherents of Islam regard as the seal (last) of prophets.
The rites of Hajj begin on the 8th of Dhul Hijja and run through the 13th or 15th of Dhul Hijja-the last month in the lunar calender.
The pilgrims begin their journey from Makkah on the 8th day with a journey to Mina, located less than 10 kilometres from the sacred al-Haram Mosque, in a procession of buses and cars, (some in designated trains) or on foot.
They spend the night in Mina in sober reflection and prayers preparatory to their departure in the early hours of the 9th day, to Mount Arafah, a granite hill on the plains of Arafah, located 20 kilometres to the east Makkah and referred to as the Mount of Mercy (Jabal ar-Rahmah)
Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafah are all located in the city of Makkah. While the 1st two are within the Sacred Precincts, Arafah is outside the precinct.
According to Islamic theology, the Prophet Adam and Eve (Hauwa’u) were reunited on Mount Arafah, after they were cast to earth from Heaven.
The hill is also the place where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his Farewell Sermon to the Muslim Ummah (congregation).
Pilgrims are obligated to stand on the plains of Arafah in remembrance of Prophet Muhammad, his teachings, lifetime and the last message (sermon) to the Ummah (congregation of Muslims).
Digital sermon in 5 languages
Voice of Nigeria reports that this year for the 1st time ever, the Hajj Khutbah (Arafah sermon) will be broadcast live in five international languages of Arabic, English, French, Malaye, Persian and Urdu.
An application has been developed for download on Android and IOS systems, with which pilgrims can listen to a live stream of the sermon on mobile devices.
The 2018 Hajj has numerous other technological inputs reflective of global modern trends.
Of significance is the deployment of a Global Positioning Systems-GPS software, which provides co-ordinates of the tent arrangements in Mina, for accurate and instant location searches of the tents allocated to each country’s contingents in Mina.
The GPS, with the capacity to read each pilgrims’ wrist band, is to minimise instances of pilgrims getting lost in the milleu of tents on the site.
Muzdalifah, Mina and Jamrah rites
Pilgrims on Arafah offer a combined version of the noon (Dhuhr) and early evening (Asr) prayers before departing after sunset for Muzdalifah, another sacred site, 13 kilometres North-west of Arafah where they perform the evening (Magrib) and late evening (Isha’i) prayers.
The congregants remain in Muzdalifa until midnight at least, to supplicate and collect 7 pebbles for the next rite.
Upon returning to Mina on the 10th day of Dhul Hijja, pilgrims perform the 1st Ramy at the Jamrat Al-Aqabah, (symbolic stoning of Shaytan or devil) with the seven pebbles.
Afterwards, they return to the Jamrah to repeat the throwing of seven pebbles, this time at all three Jamrahs, starting again with Al-Aqabah
This may be performed either on the same day after the Eid or spread over the next three days, before returning to Makkah.
Pilgrims afterwards go to the Jamrah to repeat the throwing of seven pebbles, this time at all three Jamrahs, starting again with Al-Aqabah.
This may be performed either on the same day of the Eid or spread over the next three days, before returning to Makkah.
Thereafter, those who intended Hajj Al-Tamatt’u (performing Ihram or intention for Umrah and Hajj with a break in between, which requires two Ihrams) or Hajj Al-Ifrad (Umrah and Hajj without a break in between with one Ihram), go to offer animals in sacrifice.
However, pilgrims performing Hajj Al-Qiran (Only Hajj intended), are not required to offer an animal for sacrifice.
As soon as the animal sacrifice rite is concluded, male pilgrims proceed to shave or cut their hairs, trim their nails and change into clean clothing to perform the congressional Eid al-Adha prayers. For female pilgrims, they are required to only trim an inch of hair or 1/3 of a finger length of their hair.
The final stages of the rites of Hajj entail the performance of Tawwaf Ifadah and the Hajj Sa’i in Makkah.
To end the Hajj, pilgrims perform the Tawwaf Ifada (final farewell circumbulation) of the Ka’abah in Makkah, which includes all the steps of a complete Umrah.
Once the farewell Tawwaf Ifadah and Hajj Sa’i are concluded, all restrictions on the pilgrim relating to the donning or entering into the state of Ihram, are lifted.