By Dr. Mozammel Haque
During the holy month of Ramadan, the whole city of Makkah al-Mukarramah remains busy and buzzing. I have been seeing this for the last thirty years. But this year especially I felt something different only because I missed Ramadan last year due to some unavoidable reasons.
Fasting (Sawm) in Ramadan and Hajj in the month of Zil-Hajja are two of the five pillars of Islam. But Ramadan is compulsory for every adult sane Muslim person unless he or she is sick or traveling. On the other hand, Hajj is only obligatory for those who are financially and physically capable to perform Hajj. One does not have to go to Makkah to keep fasting but it is advised to perform Umrah during Ramadan. But those who want to perform Hajj have to go not only to the Grand Mosque of Makkah but also to Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat.
Worshippers, Visitors and Umrah performers
But in spite of these differences, every year during the holy month of Ramadan, like Hajj, nearly similar number of pilgrims visited Makkah. This year more than three million worshippers, visitors and Umrah performers came to Makkah to perform Umrah and spend their days in the vicinity of the Grand Mosque of Baitullah. From the very beginning of the month of Ramadan, Muslims started coming from different parts of the world. The scene during Maghreb at Haram when the Muslims are waiting with their food for the prayer call to break their fast is wonderful. Both the Saudi government and the Saudi philanthropists distributed dates and Zamzam both inside and outside of the Grand Mosque.
As the days are passing the number of worshippers, visitors and Umrah performers are increasing. The last ten days and nights are very important days and nights because of the Lailatul Qadr, last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, Khatme Qur'an and Ittikaf.
Muslims of all walks of life, from the most common people to the head of the government of the Muslim countries visited the Grand Mosque during the last ten days of the Ramadan. General Zia-ul-Huq, former President of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Sultan of Brunei along with a delegation including all the members of his family used to attend on the 27th night of Ramadan in the Grand Mosque of Makkah every year. This year like any other year, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia came on a seven day visit to the Kingdom. Zia arrived Saturday as a guest of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and was expected to meet with King Abdullah, officials from the Islamic Development Bank and Organization of Islamic Conferences. Some Governors of the Nigerian state and Judges of Nigeria from the North also attended the last ten days of the Ramadan in Makkah this year.
Last ten nights of Ramadan
The last 10 nights of Ramadan are very special. The first of these is the night that starts after the completion of the 20th day of fasting. Sometimes there are only nine nights, whenever the month of Ramadan lasts for only 29 days. Even so, they are still conventionally referred to as the last ten nights. These are the nights that the Prophet (pbuh) used to worship Allah more. Among these nights is Lailat Al-Qadr, a night more blessed than a thousand months. The Prophet (pbuh) was accustomed to assign these nights for worship and for performing good deeds. He devoted himself for worshiping during these ten nights more than on any other nights of the year.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) indicated the last 10 nights, especially the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, 29th nights of the month of Ramadan. No night has been fixed so that the search in prayer to find it may increase, which is why some Muslims do what is known as I'tikaf, where they dedicate themselves to prayer during the last 10 days of the holy month.
27th night of Ramadan at Haram
Some Muslims think that it is the 27th night of the month. They depend on what a Prophet's companion, Ubay Bin Ka'ab, had said. "The most likely night for Lailat Al-Qadr is the 27th night of Ramadan. This is indicated by the speech of Ubay Bin Ka'ab: "I swear by Allah that I know which night it is. It is the night in which Allah's Messenger (pbuh) ordered us to observe in prayer. It is the night of the 27th of Ramadan. Its sign is that the sun will rise in the morning of that day white without giving out any rays.” "But it is best for us to try hard on all 10 nights, because the Prophet (pbuh) said: Seek Lailatulqadr by engaging in extra worship."
Three millions worshippers, visitors and Umrah performers from within and outside the Kingdom were expected to pray at the Grand Mosque Wednesday night. The night of Ramadan 27th is believed to be the Night of Destiny (Lailat Al-Qadr), when the heavens are more open to prayers than on other nights, and as such dedicate themselves to all night prayers. What is known for sure, however, is that the Night of Destiny falls within the last 10 days of Ramadan.
The General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques told Okaz, the mass-circulation Arabic-language daily, it had made all necessary arrangements to receive worshippers by applying a plan, which concentrates on supplying all pilgrims with Zamzam water besides securing 50 electric wheelchairs for disabled and aging pilgrims in addition to 1,500 electronically operated wheelchairs. Makkah Traffic Police also mobilized large numbers of its officers to prevent traffic jams and ensure a smooth flow of traffic. Some 66 senior officers and 2,300 noncommissioned officers had been assigned and mobilized to organize traffic inside and outside Makkah. It also deployed 71 traffic patrols and 520 officers on motor bikes to monitor all the streets leading into the Holy Mosque.
The Civil Defense Administration also deployed more than 40 rescue and safety teams around the Holy Mosques. In addition to this, it deployed more than 125 firefight teams and stationed them in areas heavily inhabited by pilgrims. All hospitals and health centers in Makkah, especially those around the Grand mosque were on high alert Wednesday night.
Last Friday of Ramadan
Some two million of the faithful appear to have attended the last Ramadan Friday at the Grand Mosque in the Holy City of Makkah and over half a million at the Prophet's Mosque in the Holy City of Madinah, according to government statements issued through the Saudi Press Agency Friday.
Khatm Qur'an prayer at Haram
Around 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world attended Isha and Taraweeh prayers, and the following supplication celebrating the complete recital of the Holy Qur'an - the Khatm prayer. The first 10 rakahs of the Taraweeh prayers were led by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Johani and the next eight by Sheikh Salah Al-Budair. Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais led the last two rakahs and recited the last verses of the Quran, followed by a passionate supplication to Allah, the Almighty, which lasted for more than half an hour. The Imam pleaded and wept before Allah to forgive Muslims for their sins and to lead them to the right path. The Imam prayed for the peace and stability of the Kingdom and for King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
Imam Sudais prayed for the well-being of the people of Iraq and for the restoration of peace and tranquility in that country. The gathering at the Holy Mosque was the highest ever. Never before had such a huge gathering been witnessed at Haram. The scene around the Holy Mosque was more or less like a sea of humanity, with heads bowing up and down, as the faithful prayed. Lines of worshipers extended down Umm Al-Qura road, Harat Al-Bab, Khalid Bin Waleed street, Shamia in the west, Ibrahim Khaleel road and Misfalah in the south, Roads leading toward Ajayad Sud and Ajayad Musawi in the east and Gazza in the north. Since the open spaces around the Grand Mosque and roads were already occupied, many worshipers scaled over Jebel Omar and offered their prayers there.
With over three million pilgrims amalgamating at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, authorities in the holy city have a mammoth task in ensuring a safe environment for pilgrims. Most pilgrims and visitors to the massive prayer complex have little idea of the lengths authorities go to in order to ensure pilgrims have a pleasant stay. Brig. Gen. Saad Al-Ghamdi, head of the fire department in Makkah, gave readers an insight into the work of the fire brigade in the holy city.
"In the last 10 days of Ramadan, a fire safety plan has been established especially for the central area. Firemen are working round the clock and are on duty 24-hours-a-day. We have more than 200 firemen on motorbikes. Each motorbike fireman is equipped with an oxygen tank and a fire resistant uniform in case he has to enter a building on fire. The teams are located in 16 locations in the central area of Makkah in and around the massive prayer complex," Gen. Al-Ghamdi said.
Monday marked the joyous holiday of the festival of fast breaking (Eid Al-Fitr) and was celebrated across most of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. During the celebration, I was so amazed over the exchange of our customary greetings together with the warmth and affection from fellow Muslims here at Haram in Makkah from Indian sub-continent, Gulf countries, North African countries, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau, Guinea Konakry etc, with whom I spent thirty days of Ramadan, particularly the last ten days.
Markets everywhere were buzzing with bustling, hustling people making last minute Eid shopping, buying sweets, clothes, jewelry, and toys for their children, it's all for the big day - Eid. While the whole of Jeddah celebrates Eid, friends and families get together; Eidies and sweets are given to children. Pets were not left out of the celebrations.
Jeddah geared up for the Eid Al-Fitr celebrations and expected to have around two million visitors coming into the city. The Jeddah Municipality beautified the fountain near the Corniche, considered the highest in the world, with beautiful lights and set up a light show to write Eid's greetings with light. Eid festivities in Jeddah included firework shows, folk dances, car and motorbike stunts, water sports and shows and different festivals at several locations in the city. These included the festival for orphans and people with special needs besides numerous other activities at tourist and recreation locations. Besides these, there was a big recreation festival with the title "Al-Eid Farha” for families and children.
The "Al-Eid Farha” festival targetted over two million visitors and tourists during the Eid holiday, as scores of families from the Kingdom's regions and the Gulf countries came to Jeddah to spend the Eid holiday on its beautiful beaches, recreation cities and big shopping centers.