Plains of Arafat can feel like a boot camp...
Arafat – at night
So this is it. The Plains of Arafat.
It’s an eerie place at night. Has kind of a military camp kind of feel. Emergency vehicles driving around, armed troops guarding VIP quarters, and the occasional helicopter flying overhead. Safety and health, it seems, are the Saudi authorities’ biggest concerns.
On the health front, there are fully staffed hospitals offering free medical care. Arafat has rarely been the scene of any serious injuries or deaths, but you can bet there’ll be minor injuries. They’ll range from sprained ankles, a few heat strokes, and of course, exhaustion.
They have caravans from different nationalities all stationed together. There are some – perhaps many – in the Muslim world who would say this violates the spirit of the Hajj. If it’s supposed to promote equality – between races, genders, ethnicities, etc – then why group people according to where they came from? I mean, some would say there’s no point coming here if you’re gonna be hanging with people whose customs you already know.
The mitigating factor in this is that Arafat is not a place where pilgrims typically socialize. That happens later, in Mina, after Eid, once pilgrims have removed their ihram. The day of Arafat is considered a day of prayer, akin to the Jewish Day of Atonement. My game plan tomorrow is to piggyback with a Turkish-Kurdish group, head to the Mount of Mercy to shoot some photos, then try to make it to the Canadian quarters by 11am, do some interviews, then come back to my “tent” and log off for a few hours. Been so busy keeping myself, well, busy here that I haven’t had any time to myself. Tomorrow will be that day.
In the meantime, here’s what Arafat looks like at night:
The "Namera Mosque" in Arafat, near Mecca. It is the only "permanent" structure allowed in the area. Millions of Muslims are now arriving at the Plains of Arafat, as part of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.