Despite threats, MERS, and crane woes, pilgrims on Hajj show no fear

The kingdom has registered over 1.3 million people taking part so far

Rajia Aboulkheir
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The series of recent unfortunate events in Saudi Arabia have not scared off Muslims from undertaking the Hajj pilgrimage, one of the key tenets of the Islamic faith.

Since pilgrims started to arrive at the holy city of Makkah last week, the kingdom has registered over 1.3 million people taking part so far.

“Saudi Arabia is doing an amazing job, and it is doing its best to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to all pilgrims,” Aziz Haddou, the president of the French association for Hajj and Umrah (an optional pilgrimage performed by some Muslims), told Al Arabiya News.

“Now some people may be scared and fear other similar incidents, and that is normal,” Haddou said, “but the incidents have probably not in any case influenced the number of Muslims traveling from Europe.”

This year’s pilgrimage comes as Saudi Arabia faces various challenges. Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacks on mosques in the kingdom have killed dozens of people over the last few months.

The country also faces a new transmission of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS) among pilgrims, which over the last few years has killed 520 people.

See also: Saudi MERS cases continue to rise

Safety and security

However, in an attempt to reassure pilgrims, the spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said some 100,000 security personnel had been deployed to oversee the pilgrimage.

See also: Saudi Arabia says 100,000 troops to secure the Hajj

Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said among those securing the massive crowds during Hajj are members of an elite counterterrorism unit, traffic police and emergency civil defense personnel.

The health ministry said it has mobilized 25,000 additional medical staff to support the Hajj, but stressed there has never been a case of MERS among pilgrims.

Saudi’s Health Minister Khaled al-Falih confirmed that all pilgrims were so far in "very good, if not excellent health."

Crane crash

An additional woe was the recent collapse of a crane in Makkah that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds more.

Saudi Arabia said that “heavy rain and strong winds of unusually high speed” had caused the tragedy.

Speaking about the crane crash tragedy at the Grand Mosque, Haddou said: “The incident will not affect the Hajj season, absolutely not at all. This is bad luck and nothing else. The incident could have happened in any other country.”

Mansour Mohammed, a Yemeni pilgrim who in is Makkah, seemed to echo Haddou’s statement.

“The crane incident was destiny … and as Muslims we believe in destiny,” Mohammed told Al Arabiya News,

Mohammed also said that “from a security perspective, there is absolutely nothing alarming here [in Makkah] …. Everything is well planned and organized so far.”

He added that the kingdom has done “more than it had to do” and that the Saudis had proved to be a “hospitable people.”

Days before Hajj, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said that the incident had been dealt with under the guidance of King Salman.

See also: Saudi Arabia ‘ready to thwart’ any Hajj attacks

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said that his country takes over the security of the pilgrims and their safety a top priority and that the incident will not affect their journey in any way.

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