Pilgrims ascend Mount Arafat in high point of Hajj

News Network
July 19, 2021

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Makkah, July 19: Muslim pilgrims ascended Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat on Monday in the high point of this year's Hajj, being held in downsized form and under coronavirus restrictions for the second year running.

Just 60,000 people, all citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia, have been selected to take part in this year's Hajj, with foreign pilgrims again barred.

The mask-clad faithful, who had spent the night in camps in the Valley of Mina, converged on Mount Arafat where it is believed the Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon, for the most important of the Hajj rituals.

Worshippers will assemble on the 70-metre (230-foot) high hill and its surrounding plain for hours of prayers and Quran recitals to atone for their sins, staying there until the evening.

After sunset, they head to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they will sleep under the stars before performing the symbolic "stoning of the devil".

The scene was dramatically different to past pilgrimages, which have drawn up to 2.5 million people, and this year the mountain was free of the huge crowds that descend on it in normal years.

Privileged few

Being one of the lucky few "gives you a feeling that our God is forgiving and has chosen us to be in this place," said Selma Mohamed Hegazi, a 45-year-old Egyptian. "God willing, our prayers will be accepted."

"My whole body is shivering," she said as she stood among the other emotional pilgrims, wearing the ihram, the traditional seamless white garment worn during the Haj.

Worshippers described a sense of tranquillity descending on the mountain, also known as the "Mount of Mercy".

"To be one of only 60,000 doing haj ....I feel like I am part of a (privileged) group that was able to reach this place," said Baref Siraj, a 58-year-old Saudi national.
The Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims with the means to travel at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world's largest religious gatherings.

Participants were chosen from more than 558,000 applicants through an online vetting system, with the event confined to fully vaccinated adults aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses.

Safety first

Authorities are seeking to repeat last year's successful event, which took place on the smallest scale in modern history with just 10,000 participants, but which saw no virus outbreak.
Saudi health authorities said Sunday that not a single Covid case had been reported amongst the pilgrims this year.

The kingdom has so far recorded more than 509,000 coronavirus infections, including over 8,000 deaths. Some 20 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country of over 34 million people.

The Haj, which typically packs large crowds into congested religious sites, could have been a super-spreader event for the virus.

But Saudi Arabia has said it is deploying the "highest levels of health precautions" in light of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants.

Pilgrims are being divided into groups of just 20 to restrict potential exposure, and a "smart Haj card" has been introduced to allow contact-free access to camps, hotels and the buses to ferry pilgrims around religious sites.

Black-and-white robots have been deployed to dispense bottles of sacred water from the Zamzam spring in Makkah's Grand Mosque, built around the Kaaba, the black cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.

Ibrahim Siam, a 64-year-old Egyptian pilgrim who comes from Dammam in the east of the country, said that high-tech procedures introduced to manage the Haj "have made things a lot easier."

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News Network
July 27,2021

Kuwait City, July 27: The Kuwait Cabinet has decided to reopen all social activities from September 1. These include summits and other social events, including children’s activities. Entry to the activities will be limited to the vaccinated people. 

The unvaccinated will be only allowed to pharmacies, consumer cooperative societies, and food and catering marketing outlets, starting from August 1, the cabinet added.

However, large gatherings will not be allowed as a precaution to curb the spread of Covid-19.

According to another Cabinet decision, an earlier announcement to close commercial activities at 8pm will be cancelled, starting Tuesday.

The decision to ease the restrictions comes after health authorities said efforts to contain the disease witnessed good results amid a sharp drop in cases.

The Cabinet also decided to resume flight service to two more countries.

A tweet by the official news agency, KUNA, announced the Cabinet decision to restart flight service to Morocco and Maldives from August 1.

On July 1, the country had announced the resumption of direct flights to several destinations. Direct flights are available to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the UK, Spain, the US, Holland, Italy, Austria, France, Kyrgyzstan, Germany, Greece and Switzerland. 

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News Network
July 31,2021

Shillong, July 31: Senior BJP leader and minister in the Meghalaya government Sanbor Shullai encouraged the people of the state to eat more beef than chicken, mutton and fish, dispelling the apprehension that his party was against it.

Shullai, who was sworn in as a cabinet minister last week, said everybody was free to eat whatever they want in a democratic country.

"I encourage the people to eat more beef than chicken, mutton or fish. By encouraging people to eat more beef, the perception that BJP will impose a ban on cow slaughter will be dispelled," he told reporters on Friday.

Shullai, who is the Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Minister, also assured that he would speak to Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to ensure that cattle transportation to Meghalaya was not affected by the new cow legislation in the neighbouring state.

On the vexed boundary dispute between Meghalaya and Assam, the three-term legislator said it was high time the state utilise its police force to protect the border and its people.

"If the people of Assam keep on harassing our people in the border area, time has come not only to talk and drink tea... We have to react, we have to act on the spot itself," he said.

He, however, clarified that he was not pro-violence.

"We should have the spirit to protect our people, we have to utilise our force -- the police should go to the front to talk with the Assam Police."

Lauding the Mizoram Police for "standing up to protect" its land and people, the BJP minister criticised the Meghalaya Police who are always "seen at the backfoot" when it comes to protecting border residents.

"We have seen from time to time -- the police are behind and the civilians are at the fore-front. The higher-ups should give orders that police should be in the front to protect the people," he said.

"If enemies come to your house, attack you and your wife and children, you also have to attack in self defense. The same thing should be done at our borders... If your enemy comes to your house to steal or rob your house, you have to protect yourself, whether it is legal or illegal, you have to protect," Shullai asserted.

He said the issue of border dispute has been pending for a long and needs to be resolved at the earliest.

"Many political parties have given commitments in their manifestos that if they come to power they will resolve the issue -- but it's more than 50 years, no party could resolve it. So, we have to do a post-mortem of the problem here," he said.

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News Network
July 28,2021

Bengaluru, July 28: A new Council of Ministers under Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai will be sworn in within a week, BJP state president Nalin Kumar Kateel said.

Speaking to reporters following the swearing-in ceremony of Bommai, he said that appointing ministers to the state Cabinet was left to the discretion of the CM. "He will take a decision in consultation with BJP high command," Kateel said.

On whether 'migrant' legislators will be accommodated in the Cabinet, he said that the high command would take a call.

Meanwhile, MTB Nagaraj — among the migrants from the Congress-JD(S) coalition — said that he was confident that the party and former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa would fulfill their promise and continue those who joined from Congress and JD(S) in the Cabinet.

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