More than 80 Oklahoma Muslims are stranded in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, because of delays caused by Tropical Storm Sandy.
The travel delays came at the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Prayer — an integral component of the Hajj — is what an Oklahoma City imam is asking the pilgrims to do as they await their return flights to America.
“We asked them while in the holy city to pray for victims of Hurricane Sandy,” Imad Enchassi, imam and president of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said Thursday.
“We pray for everybody’s safety in New York but we also pray that they (pilgrims) return safely.”
Enchassi said about 87 members from the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas were prevented from returning to Oklahoma as scheduled because several New York airports closed as Tropical Storm Sandy ravaged the East Coast.
Hajj is a one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. It is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for Muslims who have the physical and financial ability to undertake the journey. Hajj consists of a series of faith rituals and re-enactments, many of which are called obligations, that commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at God’s command. Instead, God allowed Abraham, who is considered the patriarch of the Islamic faith, to sacrifice a sheep.
Enchassi said Mecca pilgrims from Oklahoma must make connecting flights in international airports to get to and from Saudi Arabia. Those flights usually go through New York or Chicago.
The Associated Press reported that John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia were closed because of the storm, but the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reopened Kennedy Airport for limited flights on Wednesday. LaGuardia Airport resumed flights on Thursday.
Dr. Tariq Mahmoud, an Oklahoma City oncologist, said his son Irfan Mahmoud managed to get a flight out of Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
He said he initially had been concerned about his son getting home but he knew he would be fine with other pilgrims still in Mecca.
Enchassi said some pilgrims may have to take flights that will take them to smaller airports, which means their trip home will take longer. He said the Islamic Society will hold a fundraiser on Friday at the society’s mosque, 3815 N St. Clair.
Muslims attending the mosque Friday will be encouraged to donate to the Islamic Relief USA’s disaster relief fund for victims of Sandy.