Mecca hajj, Muslims’ way to seek Allah’s forgiveness for their sins

It is the season of the annual hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, again and around 6,000 Filipino pilgrims are joining around two million from around the world.

Pilgrims perform ‘Asr’ (late afternoon prayers) at NAIA Terminal I before their flight on July 24 to Saudi Arabia. (Edd K. Usman)

Of the 6,000 Filipinos, over 3,000 are already in Saudi Arabia, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), said.
Hajj is a religious duty and is obligatory to adult Muslims who are physically, financially, and emotionally capable. It is an obligation ought to be completed once in a lifetime.

Tentatively, the pilgrimage, which is conducted for five or six days, will take place from August 19 to 24. Saudi religious authorities will declare the actual date upon the sighting of the crescent moon of Dhul Hijjah.
The hajj occurs on the 8th to 13th of Dhul Hijjah, the 12th Islamic month, but the date changes yearly in relation with the Gregorian calendar because the Muslim calendar is based on the moon’s movements, thereby, short by 11 days.

Filipino pilgrims checking in. (Edd K. Usman) #

A total 668 Filipino pilgrims, who must first undergo vaccination against meningitis and yellow fever, like pilgrims from other countries before being allowed to go to hajj, started flying on July 22 to Madinah, one of the Arab kingdom’s gateways through air.

The other gateways is in Jeddah for both air, land, and sea routes.
Dr. Jun Alonto Datu Ramos, director the Bureau of External Relations (NCMF-BER), said one female pilgrim from Ramain, Lanao del Sur, succumbed to cardiac arrest en route via Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) Flight SV-861 on July 25.

Her name is Mrs. Casana R. Dirimbangun, 64 years old, who had a history of chronic renal failure (CRF) and bleeding peptic ulcer.
Datu Ramos, the NCMF spokesperson, said the Saudi flag carrier even had to execute an emergency landing in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in an attempt to bring the sick pilgrim to a hospital.

Dhaka airport medical authorities, however, declared her already dead.
“We have a casualty on board Flight SV-861, Casana B. Dirimbangun, 64 years old, female, of Ramain, Lanao del Sur, under ‘sheikh’ Absamin R. Arig, who succumbed to cardiac arrest just hours after departure from Manila,” said the report received by the NCMF-BER from a member of Philippine hajj delegation.

The first flight via SV-871 on July 22, he said, also had to make an emergency landing at the Yangon International Airport (YIA) in Yangon, Myanmar, because of sick female pilgrim, Mrs. Mulingan Mamatuc Sumo, 75 years old, of Picong, Lanao del Sur.

“Our impression then was (hypertension, diabetes mellitus), toxic goiter, (and) chronic renal failure (CRF). (A) few minutes after our first aid, she had an episode of seizures, change of sensorium (sensory faculties as a whole), oxygen saturation dropped to 70-80 percent, and starting to deteriorate,” said an earlier report the NCMF-BER received.
That’s when the medical team decided to recommend to the Saudia pilots and crew that the plane needed to land on emergency to the nearest country, which happened to be Myanmar. The plane landed on its third hour of flying time.

Datu Ramos said the two incidents (Sumo was endorsed to a hospital in Yangon for further treatment accompanied by her relative and her pilgrim’s leader or “sheikh”) brought to mind the need for pilgrims from 60 years old to first show a medical certificate before being allowed to go to hajj.

Meanwhile, lawyer Saidamen Balt Pangarungan, new NCMF secretary/CEO, plans to construct an office building for the agency, which is under the Office of the President.

He was reported to be eyeing “funds from generous Muslim countries.”
Since his assumption of office, Pangarungan has been mapping out reforms at the NCMF, including the conduct of the hajj operation where some Filipino pilgrims have ended up as victims of fixers.

. A pilgrim couple taking a late lunch. (Edd K. Usman)

The hajj is one of the five pillars or foundations of Islam, with the other four being the Shahaddah (profession of faith), Salat (five daily prayers), Sawm (Ramadan fasting), and Zakat (obligatory charity to the needy).
Pilgrimage is conducted in Mecca at the Masjidil Haram (Grand Mosque); Mina (about seven km from Mecca); Muzdalifah (some 10 km); Arafah (nearly 20 kms.)

In Mecca, pilgrims do the “tawaf” to circumambulate (or go around) the Ka’aba (the center of the Islamic world and worship); stand and pray in Arafah (where Prophet Muhammad delivered his Farewell Sermon) for “Uqof” in 632 A.D., his final pilgrimage; pick up pebbles in Muzdalifah; and throw the pebbles at the Jammarat (three concrete pillars symbolizing the devil) in Mina.

Religious leaders say that for a hajj to be valid, a pilgrim must spend a part of the day and a part of the night in Arafah.
A Muslim’s journey for the hajj is very important because they are able to replicate the steps taken by Islam’s prophet more than 1,400 years ago.

Saudi Arabia calls the pilgrims the “guests of Allah” as they make their journey of a lifetime. Every year around two million go for the hajj, about half of them from the kingdom.

Muslims believe that some of the hajj rituals can be traced back to the time of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham among Jews and Christians), including the sacrifice of a sheep, a goat, or a cow, and Saei (running back and forth in hills of As-Safah and Al-Marwah), etc.

About 10 km from Mecca, every pilgrim must enter into a sacred purity (ihram), symbolized among male pilgrims by wearing two pieces of unsewn white cloths. Women may wear any color that will cover their whole body (except the face) but with a white head covering.

Among Muslims, the hajj is a journey and an opportunity to atone for one’s sins, believing that if their pilgrimage is accepted by Allah (God in Arabic), they will go home with their sins erased and start a new life.

EDD K. Usman: 1st winner of “Best Science Feature Story” of 2018 UP Science Journalism Award on February 17; winner in June 2014 for Print Media in Kabalikat Award Media Category of PCIEERD-DOST Science Journalism Award; alumnus of United States’ East-West Center 2008 Senior Journalists Seminar; participant of South Korea 2000 Executive Seminar for Information Technology Journalists; senior journalist at Manila Bulletin until April 15, 2016; stringer/contributor at present for Rappler, Newsbytes.ph, Claire Delfin Online Magazine, Malaya Business Insight, Agriculture Magazine (of Manila Bulletin), and U.S.-based Philippine News. Traveled on assignment abroad more than 30 times. Reports about SciTech, IT, ICT, Current Events, and many other subjects under Heaven.

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