Muslim Faithful Hear Wrathful Prayer
By RAWYA RAGEH The Associated Press
Published: Jan 31, 2004
MINA, Saudi Arabia - The cleric who delivered the sermon Friday at the annual hajj pilgrimage had a simple request: God grant victory to Muslims fighting around the world.
The prayer by Sheik Saleh al-Taleb to 500,000 people in Mecca's Grand Mosque and nearby streets came as the hajj neared its climax.
``Oh God, give victory to the mujahedeen [holy warriors] everywhere,'' al-Taleb said. ``Give them victory in Palestine. Oh God, make the Muslims triumphant and destroy their enemies, and make this country and other Muslim countries safe.
``Oh God, inflict your wrath on the criminal Zionists.''
After the sermon, pilgrims headed to the tent city of Mina, the last stop before they go to Mount Arafat for a day of prayers and soul-searching that is the main ritual of the annual gathering.
Rajab al-Arabi, a Belgian pilgrim of Tunisian origin, said that hearing a Grand Mosque sermon is ``something one wishes all one's life. It's a dream come true.''
But he added that he had expected a stronger message.
``In Belgium, we have Egyptian and Moroccan clerics who freely criticize the hardships of Muslims, which includes the injustice that has befallen Iraq and the occupation it is under,'' he said.
After the sermon, nearly 2 million pilgrims walked and took buses to Mina for a night of rest before heading to Arafat.
Time spent at Arafat, a gentle hill 12 miles southwest of Mecca, is believed to represent the Day of Judgment, when Islam says every person will stand before God and answer for his deeds.
Male pilgrims wore seamless white robes. Women were covered from head to foot except for their hands and faces.
Nigerian Abdul Rashid Gbenga said he couldn't wait to leave for Arafat because ``it is the closest place to God on Earth. ... This is the closest thing to Judgment Day.''
Fatima Farouk, another Nigerian who was performing the hajj for the first time, said that despite the demanding journey, she was thrilled ``because after Mount Arafat, you're almost promised heaven.''
Muhammad, Islam's prophet, delivered his last sermon at Mount Arafat in March 632, three months before he died.
Police were on high alert after six Saudi security agents and a civilian were killed in a shootout with suspected terrorists in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Thursday.
The battle did not mean much to the pilgrims, 500 miles to the west.
They said that they were too overwhelmed by the hajj experience to worry about terrorism.
``These holy lands fill your heart with such genuine emotions,'' said an Egyptian computer scientist, Professor Do'oa Labib. ``I feel that with every step I take, my heart is gradually purified from any blemishes and becomes totally dedicated to God.''
I think the US and Israel missed out on a great opportunity to make the world a safer place.