Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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December 22, 2007 |  3:48 pm


Snapshots of hajj chaos:

• Imad Jomaa and his brother Ali spent hours wandering through the crowds in Mina, searching for somewhere to rest. But they couldn’t even sit on the sidewalk for long without being approached by a Saudi police officer yelling “Move hajji, move!” Finally they were taken in by a group of Iranian pilgrims, who offered food, water and a place to sleep for a few hours.

• Imam Moustafa Al Qazwini had to evacuate his son Mahdi from Mina after Mahdi collapsed due to illness, dehydration and a violent allergic reaction to mosquito bites. The ambulance was completely penned in by the crowds, so he half-carried Mahdi until he found a wheelchair for hire. Then he hailed down a motorcycle and squeezed both of them onboard for the final stretch back to Mecca.

• Yasmina Jennane spent 20 hours straight on a bus as it crawled through traffic on the road from Mt. Arafat. Finally the bus returned to Mecca while Yasmina’s husband Hakim completed the first phase of the “Stoning the Devil” ritual on her behalf. After a brief rest in Mecca, Yasmina and several others walked 45 minutes to Mina to reconnect with the main group, but had a hard time finding their campsite. Exhausted, they lay down and slept on the sidewalk of a highway overpass.

• In the chaotic 48 hours that followed Tuesday’s Mt. Arafat prayer vigil, the Costa Mesa pilgrim group splintered into multiple sub-groups. By Thursday afternoon, pilgrims began straggling back to their Mecca apartment building and swapping harrowing tales of confusion, exhaustion and hunger.
All were relieved to hear that despite the chaos, their pilgrimages were religiously valid. 

One key point: the only truly non-negotiable aspect of the hajj is the Arafat vigil. All other steps, if missed, disrupted or taken out of turn can be compensated in a variety of ways — through extra prayers, slaughtering additional sheep or having a proxy perform the step on your behalf.

— Ashraf Khalil in Mecca