Approximately 5000 Canadians leave for the Hajj despite H1N1 fears

This year, as he does every year, Dr. Munir El-Kassem, a professor of Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario, is escorting a group of 450 pilgrims – the largest Canadian contingent – to the Hajj. He said the pilgrims he leads receive an intensive Islamic course in the field.

“I go over to provide religious guidance for people not fully aware of the rituals and the meaning of the rituals,” Prof. El-Kassem said.

On concerns about H1N1, he notes that the five daily prayers include the act of cleansing the nose and mouth: the only two portals the H1N1 virus can enter the body through. Doctors suggest cleaning hands and gargling with warm salt water, and the same for the nostrils, to get rid of the H1N1 virus.

French Army Organizes Hajj Trip

For this year’s hajj, Muslims in the French army who will go on the journey to Saudi Arabia will not have to travel on private commercial flights with ordinary civilians. In a break from tradition, the Defense Ministry will provide its Muslim soldiers a plane to fly them and organize their stay.

The new hajj journey is the first to be sponsored by the army for Muslim personnel. In its history the army has sponsored annual trips for its soldiers to Catholic shrines in Lourdes with its long history of bonds with the Catholic Church. Soldiers and officers willing to embark on the hajj journey next November would pay about €3,000, an amount less than most private travel agencies.

CFCM Discourages Meccan Pilgrimage Because of H1N1 Virus

The French Council of the Muslim Faith’s (CFCM) director Mohammed Moussaoui has discouraged French Muslims from the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia because of concerns of the spread of the H1N1 virus. 14 Deaths have been reported in Saudi Arabia. Instead Moussaoui encouraged piety during the month of Ramadan.

Tough economy forces many US Muslims delay hajj

Tough economic times in the United States is having an effect on American Muslims looking to perform the pilgrimage of Hajj. Many report that saving up money to make the trip is becoming difficult, as some have even weighed taking out loans – but Hajj is not supposed to be a huge financial burden for the faithful. Nair Al-Jubeir, spokesperson for the Saudi Arabian embassy said that 11,801 visas have bee issued this year for those wishing to make the pilgrimage – down nearly 2,000 from last year. Travel agents also report that the economy has taken a toll. An agent in New Jersey specializing in Hajj packages says that the economic crisis has resulted in a nearly 40 percent drop this year.

Terrorism suspect insists bomb in Germany was hoax

A Lebanese student accused of planting a bomb on a German train pleaded his innocence before a German court Tuesday, saying that the gas-filled device in his possession was only meant to scare. “I swear by God almighty that I had no intention of killing anybody,” said Youssef al-Hajj Dib, 24. “I knew when I took the bag in my hand that it was not going to explode.”

The court in Dusseldorf is to give its verdict next Tuesday on the charge of attempted murder. Prosecutors say Germany narrowly escaped its first terrorist massacre in the attacks by al-Hajj Dib and another Islamist radical in July 2006.

The two men allegedly wanted to punish German newspapers over cartoons they believed denigrated Islam.

Al-Hajj Dib, who was allowed the last word before the judges retire to consider their verdict, had earlier admitted he and accomplice Jihad Hamad had boarded trains, each with bombs concealed in suitcases, and left them on board.

Police say the timers worked and the detonators fired, but the gas charge in both bombs failed to ignite. Defence lawyers claimed that was exactly what both men intended.

“If I had really intended to commit a terrorist attack, I would have been far more careful,” asserted al-Hajj Dib.

“To us, it was just a warning. If I had wanted to kill people, I would have covered up all the clues and worn gloves. I was definitely capable of making a proper bomb if I wanted to.”

He said he had dropped his original plan to make a real bomb after his brother Ahmed was killed in Lebanon.

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Travel dubious and false visas

Despite warming, several thousand Muslims wishing to have gone to Mecca from France to perform the holy Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj, have been misled by travel agencies and deceiving intermediaries. Nana Zakaria, founder of SOS-Pilgrims, an association that tried to alert travelers about scams related to Hajj, cites approximately 3500 people who have been unable to leave this year. Among the scams that Zakaria cites include the operations that deal fake visas and paperwork to enter Saudi Arabia.

Fire advice for Hajjis

Travellers to Mecca from among Lancashire’s 70,000 Muslims are being offered advice on how to stay safe during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service are urging pilgrims to be aware of the dangers of cooking in tents and to be aware of fire escape plans. They also draw attention to the need to stay safe and avoid crushes as pilgrims have been killed in stampedes.

204 Pilgrims Muslims cannot travel to Mecca and protesting in Ceuta

A group of 204 Muslims, all from the region of Ceuta, are unable to travel to Mecca and participate in the Islamic obligation of Hajj due to traveling visas. The victims, which included many women, held a rally before the government and headquarters of the local government to express their frustrations. The affected Muslims have asked for authorities to intervene in the failure by the travel agency to secure their visas.