MECCA: Malaysian haj pilgrims will depart early for Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina this year to avoid congestion, as two million pilgrims from around the world converge for the Masyair phase of the annual pilgrimage.

Datuk Syed Saleh Syed Abdul Rahman, head of the 1438H Haj Delegation, said the Saudi government’s move to increase the haj quota this year has led to an additional 600,000 to 700,000 pilgrims.

“We can expect traffic congestion and some delays from one sector to another. Previously, we went to Arafah after Zohor, but this year, we will start on 8 Zulhijjah (Aug 30) at 9am, making three trips (up to 20 buses per trip, per maktab). We should complete the last trip at night,” he said.

Speaking to Malaysian media after visiting the Masyair sites on Sunday, Syed Saleh said Malaysian haj pilgrims will depart Arafah for Muzdalifah at 6.30pm on 9 Zulhijjah, and the first bus from Muzdalifah to Mina will depart at 11.45pm.

“With more pilgrims than before, the tents in Arafah and Mina will also be a bit cramped. The boundaries of Arafah and Mina are fixed, so no matter how many people there are, they all have to fit within the defined area,” he added.

During the visit, Syed Saleh and other Tabung Haji (TH) officials saw first-hand some of the improvements made by Saudi agency Muassasah Southeast Asia for this year’s haj season.

These include more stable, fire-proof tents able to withstand strong winds, new air-conditioning coolers, back-up generators for electricity, and urinals for male pilgrims.

“This year, we will also implement Safari Wukuf for our hospitalised pilgrims. They will be driven to Arafah for Wukuf in an ambulance, and after completing their worship and doa, they will return to the hospital,” he added.

Syed Saleh said another concern this year will be the hot weather, which is expected to range between 45 and 50 degrees Celsius in the afternoon.

“This will be a challenge for pilgrims and TH officers. We hope everyone takes care of their health and avoid overexposure to the sun. Drink a lot of water to avoid heatstroke, which can be life-threatening,” he said.

Meanwhile, Masyair Operations Director Mohd Norber Kassim said each tent in Mina can accommodate up to 150 pilgrims, while the bigger tents in Arafah will hold about 240 pilgrims each.

At a separate briefing to the media earlier, he said medical services will also be available on site during Masyair, as well as a separate tent for elderly pilgrims who need special attention and assistance.

“This year, we will also be using a new PA system in Arafah and Mina, to better communicate with all our pilgrims on site, and for the special sermon during Wukuf,” Norber added.

Head of Malaysian Hajj Tender 1438 Hijrah Datuk Syed Saleh Syed Abdul Rahman delivered a mandate to Tabung Haji (TH) officer at the TH Headquarters at Hotel Abraj Al-Janadriyah. (BERNAMA)