Standing in the middle of a long queue at Jeddah airport, Mahdi Sharif is one of millions of Muslims waiting to enter Saudi Arabia to start the annual haj pilgrimage despite a global outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus.
Little fazed by the spread of the virus, Sharif, who has been waiting for two years to be selected from a raffle of 5,000 Kurdish Iraqis to visit Mecca, wears a protection mask but never thought for a second of delaying his pilgrimage.
“This year I was chosen so I came, I could not say no. The happiness of being chosen is stronger than fear (of illness),” said Sharif in a muffled voice through his medical mask.
In June, the Saudi authorities advised persons over 65 and under 12, as well as people suffering from terminal illness, and pregnant women, to postpone their pilgrimage. Several Muslim countries also imposed similar restrictions on their pilgrims and Tunisia barred its citizens from this year’s ritual.
About 580,000 pilgrims have so far arrived to the Western region of Saudi Arabia, site of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, in preparation for the pilgrimage that will start on November 26.