The first group of Turkish pilgrims left yesterday for the upcoming hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and one of the five pillars of Islam.
Relatives and friends saw off some 200 would-be pilgrims who flew to Saudi Arabia from Istanbul amid prayers.
Latife Kayaarslan has been waiting for the pilgrimage for nine years. Since a quota was imposed on pilgrims from around the world by Saudi authorities, Turkey, like other Muslim countries, is allowed to have only a small number of pilgrims, and would-be pilgrims are determined by a draw every year. Kayaarslan said she was happy that her dream came true and said she would pray for Turkey in the pilgrimage.
More than 1.2 million people applied for the hajj to the Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB), the state-run authority overseeing the hajj arrangements, this year but only 59,200 people were allowed due to the Saudi quota. The DİB also provides guidance and health services for pilgrims as well as training them on how to properly perform the hajj throughout the pilgrimage, which will start days before Eid al-Adha, which falls on the last week of September this year. The pilgrimage is composed of various religious services and even practicing Muslims have difficulty memorizing the rituals let alone senior citizens who comprise the majority of pilgrims who challenge the scorching heat of Saudi Arabia.
The pilgrimage has a special meaning for the faithful in Muslim-majority Turkey. Even those who do not describe themselves as devout, strive to travel to the "sacred lands" of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia where the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure deemed the holiest site in Islam is located, at least once in their lifetime. A recent survey by the DİB shows the pilgrimage is popular especially among Muslims aged 65 and above and a large percentage of the faithful interviewed for the survey plan to perform the pilgrimage at a later point in their lives.
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