PIA ACCOMPLISHES HAJJ FLIGHT OPERATIONS
Special arrangements made for the security of 2.5 million intending pilgrims
By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Jan 09 - 22, 2006
The national airliner PIA has successfully accomplished the task of transporting over 1,24,465 intended Pakistani pilgrims.
The Saudi Arabia government on its part deployed the biggest security operation for over 2.5 million expected Hajjis being assembled at the Holy Land of Mecca for offering the Hajj .
PIA which has the honor to provide transportation facility to the intending Hajjis airlifted over 124,465 intending pilgrims to the Holy Land.
According to a break down of the Hajj flights, 89 flights were operated from Karachi carrying 37,723 persons, 62 flights transporting 27,546 intending Hajjis from Islamabad, 76 flights operated from Lahore carrying 33685 intending Hajjis, 77 flights took off from Peshawar carrying 16325 intending Hajjis and 46 flights airlifted 9640 Hajjis from Quetta. While on scheduled flights 3,546 Hajjis traveled from Karachi. The post Hajj operation would commence from January 14 from Jeddah.
Meanwhile, at least 2.5 million pilgrims landed at the Muslim holy city of Mecca from all over the world till Sunday last when the five-day ritual - a duty for every able-bodied Muslim to perform at least once in a lifetime - begins.
Meanwhile, in order to avoid possible stampedes, attacks by militant group like al Qaeda or the possibility that a dangerous virus could pass through the gathered crowds or wildfire are three eventualities that Saudi security forces could be preparing for.
It may be recalled that the government had deployed 50,000 security men in the Mecca surroundings to combat potential militants, demonstrators and disorderly behavior that could lead to overcrowding like last year.
The authorities want to thwart possible attacks by al Qaeda, which has waged a two-year campaign of violence in the kingdom to end the rule of the U.S.-allied Saudi royal family.
The world's top oil producer saw a surge of attacks after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The militant campaign has lost much of its steam over the last year, and no attacks were staged during the last two pilgrimage seasons.
Meanwhile, the Civil Defense Department has already put a fleet of advanced helicopters on alert to take part in firefighting, rescue, search and reconnaissance operations during this Hajj season.
The security officers had already inspected 5,176 buildings and more than 750 restaurants and hotels in Makkah to ensure the safety regulations. They also checked the safety condition of 51 tunnels across the city.
The Civil Defense Department had also taken precautionary measures to deal with flash floods during the Haj congregations. They feel that the areas like Um Al-Joud, Haj Street, Ghasala, Sharaie and Awali could be flooded in case of heavy rains.
The Civil Defense Department, to ensure foolproof security arrangements, has put seven teams on alert to monitor radioactive, chemical and bacterial pollution.
These teams are responsible to check the rate of pollution inside tunnels and in crowded residential areas.
Sheikh Saleh Al-Hussayen, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs, handed over a new Kaaba cover to Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheibi, the leading keeper of the Holy Kaaba on Jan. 1. The new cover of holy Kaaba was manufactured at a cost of SR20 million. The presentation of the new kiswa was made at a colorful ceremony which was held at the factory.
Apart from the Kaaba cover, the factory also produces Saudi flags. "Thousands of people, mostly pilgrims, visit the factory every year. The new Kiswa will be put in place at a ceremony organized by the Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques Affairs, which will be attended by a number of Saudi officials as well as diplomats from Arab and Muslim countries. It will take place on the Arafat Day.
The Kaaba cover is a unique work of art made of black silk and adorned with phrases in praise of Allah. The 14-meter-long cloth has a gilded 95-cm belt along the top containing phrases from the holy Qura'an in Arabic calligraphy within an arabesque frame. Below the belt are other verses from the holy Qura'an and phrases in praise of God adorned with Islamic decoration.
The section called Burqaa, which is a curtain covering the door of the Kaaba, is similarly embellished with text from holy book in gold plated silver. The complete cover is made of five pieces - four covering each side of the cube-like edifice and the Burqaa, sewn together once the cover is in place. The gold and silver embroidery on the Kiswa is in fact a master piece of handicraft.
The curtain lining the inside of the Kaaba is also handwoven and thus calls for accuracy and skill as well as genuine artistry. Its making consists of several phases beginning with dyeing the silk green. Verses and designs are drawn and printed onto the green silk for the embroidery that is to follow.
Among the most delicate and longest processes is the embroidery, which is stitched in white over the intricate designs and printed verses. The green silk is then spread and draped over the inner walls of the Kaaba as well as on its ceiling. This part of the inner lining is changed every three to five years. A total of 450 kg of pure silk is used to make the Kiswa.