Hundreds of thousands of Muslims arrived at the “stoning of the devil” ritual on Saturday (September 2) for the second day of the annual haj pilgrimage.
Pilgrims threw stones at three walls at Jamarat in Mina, in one of the main rituals of the haj.
Authorities redesigned the Jamarat area after two stampedes, one in 2004 and one in 2006, killed hundreds of pilgrims, and the frequency of such disasters has been greatly reduced as the government spent billions of dollars upgrading and expanding haj infrastructure and crowd control technology.
Saudi Arabia has said that over 2 million pilgrims, most of them from outside Saudi Arabia, have arrived for the annual pilgrimage, a religious duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey.
The Governor of Niger State, Mr Abubakar Bello, has urged intending pilgrims to the Holy Land of Jerusalem to ask God for spiritual theory that will help the country out of its present challenges.
Governor Bello while addressing the 218 pilgrims on Tuesday at the State Pilgrims Board asked them to intercede for Niger State and the country at large.
Mr Bello, who was represented by the Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr Jonathan Vatsa, told the pilgrims before their departure that Nigeria was economically, politically and socially sick.
“You are not going there for site-seeing. All the theories to revamp the economy have failed, but the spiritual theory will not fail us. That is why you are going there to pray for God’s intervention especially this time that the country is going through a lot of challenges.
“The land we are standing is economically, politically and socially sick.
“Go to the holy land and intercede for Nigeria. Be good Ambassadors and pray for stability in the nation’s economy and pray against insecurity,” he said.
Also, the Chairman of the Niger State Pilgrims Board Commission, Justice Ndatsu Ndagi, asked intending pilgrims to remain good ambassadors and shun any idea of absconding.
“You are going there to pray for the State and the country. Always do the right thing so that whatever money spent will not go in vein.
“To abscond is not the charter establishing pilgrim. Follow and obey the laws of the land,” he said.
Saudi Arabia, which has barred pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea from the Hajj due to Ebola concerns, will allow Nigerians to attend, an official was reported on Monday as saying, suggesting the smaller outbreak there was less worrying.
The Arab News daily quoted the deputy health minister for planning and development, Mohammed Al-Khasheem, as saying there was no need to worry about Nigerians coming on pilgrimage.
“We have not stopped issuing Hajj visas to Nigerians and we know that about 70,000 pilgrims come from the African country every year,” he was quoted as saying.
“The WHO knows the situation in Mina and Arafat during the Hajj season and there is no need to worry about a few Ebola cases that have occurred in Nigeria,” he said, referring to holy Hajj sites in Saudi Arabia.
“We have taken precautionary measures to prevent an Ebola outbreak in the Kingdom during the haj season,” Al-Khasheem said. “We have made early preparations for the annual pilgrimage,” he said. Al-Khasheem further said the ministry’s department for preventive medicine is in constant contact with the WHO on the latest developments on Ebola and other infectious diseases.
Saudi Arabia said in April it would not issue visas for the 2014 Hajj to pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea due to the Ebola outbreak in those countries.
Millions travel to Mecca each year for the haj pilgrimage that all Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetime, if they are able. This year’s Hajj will take place in October.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been worst hit by an outbreak of the disease in West Africa, with a combined death toll in those three countries since March of 2,097, as at September 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
The Acting Executive Secretary of Kaduna State Pilgrims Muslim Welfare Board, Kabiru Kasimu, announced on Thursday that the board has registered a total of 5,672 intending pilgrims that would perform the 2014 Hajj in Saudi Arabia. He also declared that so far, the board has appointed all its Hajj officials and designated airlines for a smooth hajj operation in the state.
Addressing a news conference in his office, Kasimu said that the airlifting of pilgrims from the state would commence in September, adding that seasoned professionals have been sent to the 23 Local Government Areas of the state to sensitize intending pilgrims on the rules and guidelines the exercise.
On the commencement of air lift of intending pilgrims from the state, the overseer said that they were still waiting for the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) to fix the date. According to him, “Three airlines have been approved for the state; they are Kabo Air, Mars Air and Egypt airline”.
On the major challenge faced by the Board, he said that inadequate allocation of Hajj seats for the state was their major concern.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan along with his entourage has kicked off his holy pilgrimage to Israel with a tour of some holy sites in Jerusalem.
The tour was used as a rededication by the President to the development of the country.
The President also took time to tour the holy sites within the walls of old Jerusalem.
The walk down the way of the cross in particular was used by the president to make supplications on behalf of the country.
On the first day, the tour started with a visit to the garden of Gethsemani, the Upper Room in Mount Zion and the Church of St. Peters, where Peter was said to have denied Jesus.
Supplications were made in Chapels to mark every holy site by Christian Ministers, as they prayed for the President, as well as the unity and continued existence of the country back home.
The second day of President Jonathan’s tour started with the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem and the President was received by the Rabbi of the Wall, who led the pilgrims to offer supplications.
President Jonathan was led afterwards to the tunnels underneath the Wall to the Station of the Cross, which marked Jesus’ travails from the seat of Pontus Pilate to the Calvary.
The journey ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with President Jonathan offering prayers at every station along the way.
The experience no doubt awakens the sense of sacrifice in officials in the President’s entourage and perhaps an obligation to leave their country better for the next generation.
It will be recalled that the President left Nigeria for the year’s holy pilgrimage on Thursday 23rd October.
According to a statement by the Special Adviser to the President (Media & Publicity), Reuben Abati, the President will also be meeting with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset.
There will also be talks between President Jonathan’s delegation and the Israeli government officials, with a focus on the enhancement of bilateral relations between Nigeria and Israel in areas of trade, economic development, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, communications, culture, education and tourism.
According to the statement, President Jonathan will also be meeting with the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas.
Those among the entourage of the President on the holy pilgrimage are Senator Emmanuel Paulker, the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the Minister of Water Resources, Mrs Sarah Ochekpe, the Minister of Works, Arc. Mike Onolememen, the Minister of State (Foreign Affairs), Prof Viola Onwuliri, and the National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki.
The President, who is expected to be back in the country next week, may meet and interact with some other Nigerians who are already in Israel for the holy pilgrimage.
The Abia state governor, Theodore Orji on Wednesday expressed his gratitude to the pilgrims who visited Israel and returned to the state without attempting to run off.
During his speech at a thanksgiving service in honour of those who participated in the 2013 pilgrim to Israel at the Micheal Okpara auditorium, Umuahia, the governor said that the return of all the pilgrims is a good testimony for the state.
Mr Orji disclosed that the state spent about N450,000 including $500 Basic Travel Allowance (BTA) for each person embarking on pilgrimage and hinted that the administration would continue to sponsor those going on pilgrimage.
“No amount of money is big for Abia people to keep in touch with God.” Mr Orji said.
He urged the citizens of the state to continue praying for those in leadership and for peace.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday said that his administration will “continue to give dedicated, committed, focused and purposeful leadership towards overcoming old and emerging challenges before the nation.”
In a Message to mark this year’s Sallah celebration, the president urged Nigerians to “seize the opportunity of the Sallah season and the public holidays to reflect on how we can bring the ideals and virtues of our religious beliefs to bear on the positive resolution of the many challenges facing us as a nation.
“Nigerians remain a people of great faith with the vast majority of our people professing belief in God either as Muslims or Christians.
“There can be no doubt that we will make faster progress towards the attainment of developmental objectives as a nation if we all resolve to do more to live up to the highest ideals of our religious beliefs including the fear of God, willingness to make personal sacrifices for the collective good, selfless service, respect for laws and constituted authorities, honesty, justice, equity, fairness, dutifulness, peace and harmonious co-existence with others,” he said.
Speaking on the challenge faced by some Muslim Pilgrims in the Holy land, Mr Jonathan said though “the problem was eventually resolved with the positive intervention of the Federal Government, I have ordered a thorough post mortem of the incident with a view to ensuring that our Hajj airlift operations are never disrupted by such problems in future and that no Nigerian pilgrim is ever subjected to such traumatic experience in the Holy Land again”.
He expressed the commitment of his administration to give dedicated, committed, focused and purposeful leadership towards overcoming old and emerging challenges before the nation.
He enjoined all Muslims to remember the plight of the many thousands of Nigerians who have been displaced by the floods which recently devastated many communities across the nation and resolve to contribute whatever we can to ameliorate their suffering.
“In the true spirit of our major religions which enjoin us to be generous to the needy, I urge all Nigerians who can do so, to donate magnificently to the national relief fund for affected persons and communities” he said.
He promised that his administration will monitor the disbursement and utilization of the funds released by the Federal Government and those raised by the National Committee very closely to ensure that they are judiciously and expeditiously expended for the benefit of the flood victims.