Saudi king hosts 200 from Christchurch shootings for Hajj

Saudi king hosts 200 from Christchurch shootings for Hajj
Saudi king hosts 200 from Christchurch shootings for Hajj

Aya Al-Umari said she feels like her brother will be accompanying her and will constantly be in her prayers when she travels to Mecca next month to take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Al-Umari is one of 200 relatives and survivors from the Christchurch mosque shootings who are traveling to Saudi Arabia as guests of King Salman. The king is paying for all travel and accommodation costs, a bill likely to run to over $1 million.

The Saudi ambassador to New Zealand, Abdulrahman Al Suhaibani, on Friday said farewell to the pilgrims at the Al Noor mosque, one of two mosques where a gunman killed 51 people in March. Al-Umari said the ambassador handed out special clothes for the men to wear during the pilgrimage and told the women they would be given kits when they arrived in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Umari's 35-year-old brother Hussein was among those killed.

She said it's an honor that King Salman is sponsoringthe trips, a fact reinforced in her visa documents stating that she's travelingas a guest of the custodian of the two holy mosques.

"It came at such a perfect time and it helps with the grief as well," Al-Umari said. "It's such a humbling thing to be given. I always had, personally, as a goal before I get married, to Hajj. Now it's been given to us on a plate. I feel it's a blessing from Hussein that is looking after me and my family."

She said she was initially nervous about the trip,and won't know many of the others going because so many of her friends werekilled during the March massacre.

"It's a tough journey to do, Hajj," she said. "There are quite a number of factors. There's lots of walking, and the weather — it's quite hot. But these are all surface things, and the holiness of the whole pilgrimage will overtake the toughness of the journey."

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all able-bodied Muslims are required to perform it once in their lifetime. During the five-day pilgrimage, millions of Muslims circle Islam's most sacred site, the cube-shaped Kaaba, and take part in rituals intended to bring about greater humility and unity.

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