Babylon & Beyond

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SAUDI ARABIA: Updates from the pilgrim trail

December 20, 2007 |  6:19 am

HajjThe Costa Mesa pilgrim group has run into problems on the road from Mt. Arafat.

Snafus with the Saudi authorities meant the group's two busloads of pilgrims left late for the Muzdalifa Plain — where they were required to arrive before sunrise Wednesday to head off on foot for Mina and the "Stoning the Devil" ritual.

The Arafat-Muzdalifa road was absolutely jammed and after about five hours, it became clear the buses wouldn't make it to Muzdalifa before sunrise. Imam Moustafa Al Qazwini led one busload, about 40 people, on foot for a two-hour pre-dawn walk through a chaos of teeming pilgrims and choking exhaust fumes. A second bus full of female pilgrims  was trapped even farther back on the road and several  of the men in our group had no way of knowing if their wives were all right.   

Our group arrived in Muzdalifa on time and slept for about two hours on the ground before continuing the foot journey to Mena. There they completed the stoning ritual, but then — according to Shiite custom — had to  wait for confirmation that the ritual sheep slaughter had been carried out in their name by Saudi authorities. Until the slaughter is confirmed, the pilgrims cannot remove their ihram clothing.

For reasons still unclear, the slaughter confirmation — which normally takes about three hours — has stretched into more than a day.

As of this posting, it's Thursday morning in Saudi Arabia. The two busloads have split into at least four different groups with many members still unaccounted for. A large pilgrim group remains at a campsite in Mina — essentially trapped in ihram. Small groups are trickling in to the group's Mecca home-base.

"I didn't know it would be like this," said one tearful female pilgrim.

— Ashraf Khalil in Mecca