Last updated Friday, October 03, 2014 12:18am

Muslim pilgrims touch the Kaabah at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage October 7, 2013. — Reuters picMuslim pilgrims touch the Kaabah at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage October 7, 2013. — Reuters picMADINAH, Oct 10 — Turan Babayev of Azerbaijan was not too sure how to put on the “ihram” garment to perform the Umrah when he arrived at Miqat Dhul Hulaifah, also known as Abyar Ali, about nine kilometres from this holy city.

Abdella Suleiman of Eritrea taught him how to do so.  

First, they took a shower, and then they put on the ihram – two pieces of white unsewn garments – one wrapped around the waist and secured with a belt and the other draped over the shoulders. 

To be in ihram at the ‘miqat’ is an obligation before pilgrims can perform the Umrah or the Haj. 

Miqat Dhul Hulaifah is one the six stations where pilgrims from the Madinah area and beyond must pass through to be in the state of ihram.

Other miqat are Dhat Irg for those from Iraq and beyond; Qarn al Manazil, from Najd and those from Yemen; Wadi Mahram near Miqat Qarn al Manazil; Al Juhfah (from Ash Sham, Egypt and Turkey) and Yalamalam (for those travelling along the coast).  

After performing two ‘raka’at’ ‘sunat’ prayers at the Shajra Mosque, Turan and Abdella boarded the bus with other pilgrims to continue the journey to Mecca to perform the Umrah.  

It was narrated that Prophet Muhammad had performed the ritual bath of ihram in Dhul Hulaifah and entered the Shajra Mosque for prayers before performing the Haj.  

On the bus, the pilgrims started chanting the ‘Talbiyah’ or the phrase “Labbaik Allahhuma Labbaik…” (Here I am at Your service O’Allah, here I am ...).

Once in the state of ihram, pilgrims are subject to certain obligations, and prohibitions such as removal of hair from any part of the body or cutting the nails, and the wearing of sewn cloth by men.  

Turan was quite excited with the experience. 

“This is my first time (doing this) and I came alone from my country,” said the 27-year-old television journalist from Baku. 

Turan and Abdella are part of the media entourage invited by the Saudi Arabian government to observe this year’s pilgrimage as the authority imposed a reduction in the quota of overseas pilgrims by a fifth and domestic pilgrims by half. 

This was due to the massive development being undertaken to upgrade facilities around the Grand Mosque for the safety and comfort of pilgrims. 

A total of 22,320 Muslims from Malaysia are performing the Haj this season.

More than three million pilgrims undertook the pilgrimage last year, which is compulsory at least once in the lifetime for all able Muslims.  

En route to Mecca, buses ferrying pilgrims would have to pass several checkpoints where security personnel would board the bus to ensure that those without the Haj permit would not enter the holy city. 

According to local news reports, the Saudi police have intensified surveillance in preventing unauthorised pilgrimage, especially via Jeddah, a known port of entry for infiltrators into the holy city. 

With several days remaining for pilgrims to set out for the tent city of Mina prior the day of ‘wukuf’ on Oct 14, more checkpoints were being set up by the police to check the documents of incoming pilgrims.  

Even the mountains in the surrounding areas were being monitored by police through cameras and helicopters.

In Mecca, taxi driver Ahmed was, however, pleased with the decision to reduce the quota of pilgrims.

“The traffic is not too congested this time compared to previous years,” he said.

But he was not too sure whether the traffic would still be the same on the weekend prior to the day of wukuf on Oct 14. 

Upon arrival in Mecca, members of the media group wasted no time and headed towards the Grand Mosque to do the ‘tawaf’ (circumambulation of the Kaabah seven times) and ‘saie’ (shuttling seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwa).  

On completion of the saie, the men would cut their hair or shave their heads.  

Meanwhile, Turan tasted the ‘zam-zam’ water while facing the Kaabah for blessings.  – Bernama