|Turkish pilgrims embark on Haj, pray for quake victims |
Turkish earthquake survivors drew strength from their Muslim faith as they set off on an annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, keeping in their prayers loved ones they had lost or left behind seeking shelter from the wet, wintry weather.
|In all, some 900 pilgrims were expected to make the long pilgrimage from Van in southeastern Turkey, to the holy city of Mecca, despite the tremor on Sunday that has killed at least 534 people and left thousands homeless. |
"We're going with a different feeling now," said Suat, a cleanly-shaved man in his late 30s, worried about his family now living in a tent, as he waited in the small departure hall of Van Airport on Thursday.
He was among a group of around 100 pilgrims writing to embark a plane for İstanbul, on the first leg of their trip. A frantic, noisy crowd of relatives filled the hall to see them off.
"We are overwhelmed, we will pray for our families. I will pray that the weather will not be so cold," Suat added, as those without shelter in the devastated towns and villages in eastern Turkey risked being drenched by freezing rain.
Having been lucky enough to have been allocated one of the limited number of seats granted to Turkey under a quota Saudi Arabia awards each Muslim country for the Haj, the pilgrims did not want to lose their chance.
They had planned their trip months in advance and what is already a special experience for all pious Muslims has gained extra poignancy for those who have witnessed the destruction in the last four days.
In contrast to the desperate and mournful expressions etched on the faces of people across Van province, the pilgrims had looks of hope and devotion in their eyes as they embarked on a journey which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
"My biggest prayer will be for Van and for my family left behind. I will ask God not to punish us anymore with these earthquakes," said Fevzi Gürkaynak, 61, whose house was damaged though not destroyed by the quake.
Survivors in Van pleaded for more tents on Thursday, fearing death from cold after the tremor left thousands sleeping in the open. Hopes of finding more survivors have faded.
A lot of the pilgrims were elderly, the majority men.
Many of the male pilgrims wore loose-fitting light brown trousers and jackets, bearing a badge emblazoned with the Turkish flag for identification. Once in İstanbul they will change into the white ihram garment which male pilgrims are required to wear.
Some female pilgrims wore white headscarves and long light-brown dresses.
Turkey's religious affairs directorate has arranged to take 500 people on the pilgrimage, with private companies taking another 400, Mehdi Kulaz from the Haj department of the local religious authority told Reuters.
He said three pilgrims had not been able to make the journey because they had lost close relatives or their homes in the quake.
Another pilgrim, Zait Sönmez, said his house had emerged unscathed but a nephew was missing.
"My nephew was under some wreckage and they haven't been able to pull him out. May God give strength to our state, our nation and rescue people. I will pray for my country. May God forgive us," he said.
Source: Today's Zaman - Thursday, October 27, 2011