Muslim pilgrimage and offerings go on despite limits
By: Shaik Kadir
Today, some 2.5 million multi-racial pilgrims are in the final stages of the Haj – the pilgrimage to Mecca.
They are now congregating in Mina, about 8km away from Masjildil Haram (the Grand Mosque) to celebrate Eid ul-Adha, also referred to as Hari Raya Haji in Malay, during which sheep and camels are sacrificed in a ceremony called korban.
At the same time, Muslims around the world carry out the korban by slaughtering sheep and cows, and the meat distributed to the poor and needy.
Hari Raya Haji is celebrated for three days from today (or 10 Zulhijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar).
This year though, Singapore Muslims were confronted with limitations for the Haj and korban.
First, the number of visas allocated for Muslim Singaporeans to perform the Haj was very much reduced. The Haj is the fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam, and is obligatory on all adult Muslims who have the means and capability to perform the pilgrimage once in their life.
Second, the number of sheep available for the korban here was also reduced. Australia allowed only a total of 2,200 sheep to be imported for the korban, almost half that of previous years’.
This was due to Australia allowing only 16 of the 65 mosques in Singapore to hold the korban ceremony after an audit of the premises.
The new regulations require adequate holding space for the animals before they are slaughtered. Many of the mosques do not have the space to comply with this internationally accepted animal welfare standards.
MORE GOING OVERSEAS FOR KORBAN
As the demand for korban had exceeded the number of sheep available, the Singapore Mosque Korban Committee has advised those who wish to perform the ceremony to do so overseas.
Indeed, in the last few years, more Singapore Muslims have been performing their korban through Muslim organisations, in countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Afghanistan, because there are more poor Muslims in these regions than in Singapore.
Sheep, goats and cows are bought, sacrificed and the meat distributed in selected villages in these countries.
While the korban is the special highlight of Eid ul-Adha in countries outside Mecca, the highlight in Mecca is the Haj.
Pilgrims can be in Mecca as early as one month before Hari Raya Haji to perform rites and spiritual activities, such as special prayers and encircling of the Ka’aba, the cube-like structure towards which all Muslims in the Grand Mosque and from any spot on Earth must face when praying.
Though it looks plain, the Ka’aba tugs at the hearts of worshippers, who never fail to sob in happiness and gratitude upon setting eyes on it for the first time from close proximity.
A major element of the Haj – and even that of the Umrah, a voluntary minor pilgrimage that can be performed any time of the year – is when the pilgrim enters into ihram, a state of sacred purity. During ihram, the male pilgrim wears a garment consisting of two seamless sheets of white cloth. His head is uncovered and he wears sandals.
Women simply maintain their hijab which is their normal modest dress – fully covered from head to feet except the face and hands.
The ihram demonstrates that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper and that everyone is equal before God. Superiority of race, worldly status and culture has no divine significance.
The Haj culminates in Arafah on 9 Zulhijjah, with pilgrims performing prayers and listening to the Haj sermon. The following day, 10 Zulhijjah – Hari Raya Haji – the pilgrims travel to Mina to celebrate Eid ul-Adha, to perform other rites and offer the korban.
The korban is conducted at a place far away from the crowd. The meat is deep-frozen and distributed worldwide to the poor and needy.
PIETY THAT MATTERS, NOT SACRIFICE
Korban is not compulsory for the pilgrims or Muslims celebrating Hari Raya Haji elsewhere in the world, but it is a recommended act of piety and charity to those who can afford it. The Quran says: “It is not (the animal’s) flesh or blood that reaches God. It is your piety that reaches Him.”
Many Singapore Muslims who wanted to perform the Haj this year were disappointed because only 680 visas were issued by the Saudi government.
Visas are issued based on 0.1 per cent of the Muslim population of any country in the world; hence, the 680 places given to Singaporean Muslims here.
In the past, Singapore used to get an additional 1,500 “goodwill visas” from the Saudi government, but this year, the limit is imposed worldwide because of space constraint in Mecca and safety issues due to the massive construction works that are being carried out at the Grand Mosque and around it.
These expansion and redevelopment projects are meant to facilitate the ever-increasing number of Haj and Umrah pilgrims from all over the world.
(The views and opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of insing.com and SingTel Digital Media Ptd Ltd.)
(From inSing.com, published on 25 October 2012)