Over a million pilgrims pack Mount Arafat for climax of biggest covid-era Hajj

News Network
July 8, 2022

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Mount Arafat, July 8: Huge crowds of robed Muslim pilgrims prayed on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat on Friday, the climax of the biggest Hajj pilgrimage since the pandemic forced drastic cuts in numbers two years in a row.

Groups of worshippers, many holding umbrellas against the fierce sun, recited verses from the Qur'an on the rocky rise, where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have given his final sermon.

Prayers on Mount Arafat, also known as the “Mount of Mercy,” are the highlight of the pilgrimage, capped this year at one million people including 850,000 from abroad after Covid greatly reduced numbers over 2020 and 2021.

Pilgrims, many of them in simple white robes and chanting “Oh God, here I am,” reached Mount Arafat on foot or in buses from the tents nearby where they spent the night.

After sunset, they will journey the short distance to Muzdalifah, where they will sleep under the stars before performing the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ceremony on Saturday.

“I am so happy to be here, like everyone else. This is the biggest Hajj in the coronavirus era, but it isn’t big enough yet,” Egyptian pilgrim Saad Farhat Khalil, 49, said.

“There are one million here today, but if the Saudis allowed more, 10 million would have came,” he added.

Entry roads were packed with worshippers as helicopters buzzed overhead and volunteers handed out bottles of water and collected rubbish in green plastic bags.

“Let’s keep the purest of all lands clean,” read a sign on a large garbage container.

The Hajj, usually one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings, is among the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.

In 2019, as in previous years, some 2.5 million Muslims from around the world took part, a figure that dropped to a few thousand in 2020 and 60,000 in 2021.

Even though the crowds are back, Covid fears remain and the Hajj is taking place against the backdrop of a resurgence in the region, with some Gulf countries tightening restrictions to keep outbreaks in check.

All participants were required to submit proof of full vaccination and negative PCR tests. On reaching their white-tent encampment at Mina on Thursday, they were handed small bags containing masks and sanitiser.

The pilgrimage can be physically draining even in ideal conditions, but worshippers this year have faced an added challenge: scorching sun and temperatures rising to 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit).

Islam forbids men from wearing hats once the rites start, and many have been seen shielding themselves with umbrellas, prayer mats and even, in one case, a small bucket filled with water.

Women, meanwhile, are obliged to cover their heads with scarves.

“We can tolerate (the heat). We are here for the Hajj. The more we tolerate, the more our pilgrimage is accepted,” Laila, a 64-year-old Iraqi pilgrim who gave only her first name, told AFP in Makkah, where the rituals started.

Saudi officials have touted their preparations for the extreme conditions, highlighting the hundreds of hospital beds allocated for heatstroke patients and the “large number of misting fans” they have provided.

A truck has also been allocated to distribute umbrellas, water bottles and small fans.

Nevertheless, the National Center for Meteorology, which has set up an office in Mina, is sending warnings to pilgrims on their mobile phones, urging them to avoid outdoor rituals at certain times of the day, especially at noon.

On Saturday, Muslim pilgrims will take part in the “stoning,” the last major ritual of the Hajj which has previously led to deadly stampedes, as hundreds of thousands of participants converge on a small space.

After the stoning ritual, pilgrims return to the Grand Mosque in Makkah to perform a final “tawaf” or circling of the Kaaba, the cubic structure draped in a gold-embroidered black cloth that is the focal point of Islam.

Eid Al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice that begins on Saturday, marks the end of Hajj.

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News Network
August 5,2022

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Bengaluru, Aug 5: A Bengaluru woman allegedly threw her four-year-old mentally challenged daughter from the fourth floor of a building as she was hampering her career, the police said on Friday. The accused is a dentist by profession. 

The incident took place in the Sampangiramanagar area of Bengaluru. The accused tried to die by suicide after throwing her daughter but was rescued by neighbours.

Her husband Kiran lodged a complaint against the accused identified as Dr Sushma. They were a resident of the Advaith Ashraya apartment in CKC Garden.

CCTV footage also showed the woman throwing her daughter down.

Sushma had once tried to abandon her daughter at a railway station. Upon learning about it, Kiran immediately rushed to the station and found their daughter, the police said.

Police said that the woman was depressed over the fact that her daughter was mentally challenged and so she threw the girl to death. Further investigation is on. 

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News Network
August 3,2022

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Washington, Aug 3: The Biden administration has approved two massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help them defend against Iran.

The more than USD 5 billion in missile defense and related sales follow President Joe Biden's visit to the Middle East last month, during which he met with numerous regional leaders in Saudi Arabia. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been hit in recent months with rocket attacks from the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement in Yemen.

Although Tuesday's approvals are for defensive weapons, they may be questioned by lawmakers who had supported Biden's decision last year to cut Saudi Arabia and the UAE off from major purchases of offensive US arms because of their involvement in the war in Yemen.

The new sales include USD 3 billion for Patriot missiles for Saudi Arabia specifically designed to protect itself from rocket attacks by the Houthis, and USD 2.2 billion for high-altitude missile defense for the UAE.

"The proposed sale will improve the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's capability to meet current and future threats by replenishing its dwindling stock of PATRIOT GEM-T missiles," the State Department said in its notice informing Congress of the sale.

"These missiles are used to defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's borders against persistent Houthi cross-border unmanned aerial system and ballistic missile attacks on civilian sites and critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia," the department said.

For the UAE, the department said the sale would "support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of an important regional partner. The UAE is a vital US partner for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East."

Early in his administration Biden had pledged to cut off or cut back weapons sales to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE because of their actions in Yemen.

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Agencies
August 12,2022

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New York, Aug 12: Controversial author Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the neck at an event in New York, US, on Friday. Details were scarce about his condition and the attacker, who has been detained. The 75-year-old author's writings have in the past led to threats.

The New York State Police confirmed the stabbing and said he was taken to an area hospital by helicopter. The attacker is in custody, police said. Social media posts showed people rushing to his aid on stage at Chautauqua Institution, about 100 km from the city. A person interviewing him suffered minor head injuries in the attack. 

Mr Rushdie fell to the floor immediately after the attack, and the attacker was restrained. A small group of people surrounded the author, holding up his legs, presumably to send more blood to his chest, AP reported. Hundreds of people in the audience gasped at the sight of the attack and were then evacuated.

Rabbi Charles Savenor, who was in the audience, told AP: "This guy ran on to platform and started pounding on Mr Rushdie. At first you're like, ‘What's going on?' And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten." He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds. 

The attack happened around 11 am local time (8.30 pm IST) as Mr Rushdie was being introduced before he was to speak. The Chautauqua Institution, located in a rural part of New York, is known for its summertime lecture series. Mr Rushdie has spoken there before.

Delhi-based British writer William Dalrymple was among the first to react, hoping that Mr Rushdie wasn't hurt. "A terrible day for literature, for freedom of speech and for authors everywhere. Poor poor Salman: I pray he's not hurt and recovers quickly," he tweeted.

Mr Rushdie, 75, faced threats particularly in the late 1980s over his book, The Satanic Verses, which is banned in Iran since 1988 as it is alleged to be blasphemous towards Islam. There was also a reward out on his head by the Iranian top leader, though by 1998 the Iranian government said it wasn't seeking to enforce that 'fatwa' or edict. It wasn't clear if the attack is linked to that.

A British citizen of Indian origin, Mr Rushdie has lived in the US for the past 20 years. After the controversy over his fourth book, The Satanic Verses (1988), he remained out of the public eye, mostly living in the UK. Despite the threats, he produced several novels throughout the 1990s.

His first novel came out in 1975, but one of his seminal works is about modern India, Midnight's Children (1981), for which he won the Booker Prize. 

In 2007, he was knighted — given the ceremonial title of 'Sir' — by Queen Elizabeth II for services to literature. He has produced over a dozen works, including non-fiction.

In 2012, after an Iranian religious outfit renewed the bounty on him, he dismissed that threat, saying there was "no evidence" of people being interested in the reward, said the AP report. That year, he published a memoir, Joseph Anton, about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym he had used while in hiding.

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