The journey of the 100,000 Turks who got the opportunity to perform the hajj has been completed. What is interesting is that more than half of the pilgrims are women. There are novelties with regard to the 2011 hajj. First, the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate is proud to have put 300 women in charge of guiding the pilgrims. Second, unlike previous years, the date of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) will be same in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as was the case for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
Millions of pilgrims from various countries from around the world are now on sacred ground to perform the hajj. Women make up 55 percent of the total number of pilgrims. Another issue regarding women is that for the first time women officers are serving as guides for the duration of the hajj this year. Three hundred women guides both provide information to pilgrims and give them emotional support. Religious Affairs Directorate Vice President Ekrem Keleş, in an interview with Today's Zaman, said: “In the past women were brought along to run errands and were treated as maids. However, that has changed. Including women officers in guiding teams is something we are proud of. They inform prospective pilgrims about the requirements of the hajj, and as a result a dynamic new team of guides has come into being. They have been helping pilgrims since they departed from Turkey.”
Keleş also announced that Turkey and Saudi Arabia will celebrate Eid al-Adha on the same day. He held an information session for journalists who will be covering the pilgrimage in Mecca.
Delivering a speech at a meeting held at the Religious Affairs Directorate's hajj division, he said 80,000 pilgrims had been educated on the requirements of the hajj; Religious Affairs Directorate employees to be assigned to this year's hajj were trained by an expert guidance team as part of intra-directorate training. Keleş added that healthcare services can be provided in the best possible way. He explained that 14 clinics, a dental clinic, a section equipped with 84 beds, half for men and half for women, 18 emergency rooms and eight observation rooms are ready to receive Turkish pilgrims as well as pilgrims from other countries.
Keleş also noted that a shipping service is available to free pilgrims from the burden of excess baggage. Keleş notes that large trucks, loaded with 23 tons of dates and various souvenirs, have already arrived in Turkey and that five to six more trucks are on their way.
Keleş stated that 25 Turkish pilgrims have passed away so far this year, and that their sorrow was deepened due to the loss of life caused by a strong earthquake in Turkey's eastern province of Van.
Noting that the average age of Turks is falling, Keleş reported that the average age of pilgrims this year is between 54 and 55. Keleş also commented on women pilgrims, saying: “Male pilgrims would bring their wives along with them to deal with ironing and washing. But that has changed because food, accommodation and healthcare services are much better equipped to handle these needs.”
Journalists visit Masjid al-Haram
A group of journalists who will be covering the hajj arrived in Mecca a few days before hajj season began. After putting on their white ihram garments, 32 journalists, television reporters, cameramen and radiobroadcasters working in different media establishments visited Masjid al-Haram, the holiest site in Islam. Journalists accompanied by officers from the Religious Affairs Directorate performed some of the rituals associated with the hajj, including circumambulating the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure located in the center of the Masjid al-Haram complex, and walking between the hills of Safa and Marwa.
I am here in the House of God. What more do I want?
Leyla Özlahlan, the oldest pilgrim at 109 years old, is trying to perform all the requirements of the hajj despite her old age. Özlahlan, who came to hajj with her 78-year-old son, is circumambulating the Kaaba and trying to catch up with her group of friends, who are a lot younger than her. After walking around the Kaaba, one of the first elements of the hajj, she often comes to Masjid al-Haram, the mosque surrounding the Kaaba, to pray. Leyla expressed her happiness with these words: “I am here in the House of God. What more do I want? I am very happy.”