Over 2 million Muslims arrive in Saudi Arabia for hajj pilgrimage

More than 2 million Muslims from around the globe started the hajj pilgrimage yesterday in Saudi Arabia, one of the world's largest annual gatherings.

A vendor displays a sheep on Saturday at a livestock market in Sanaa, Yemen, ahead of the Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorates Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice his son to show his obedience to God’s command.

More than 2 million Muslims from around the globe started the hajj pilgrimage yesterday in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest annual gatherings in a country undergoing unprecedented change.

The kingdom has mobilized vast resources for the six-day journey, one of the five pillars of Islam.

“It’s the dream of every Muslim to come here to Mecca,” Frenchman Soliman Ben Mohri said. “It’s the ultimate journey. What worries me is the return to my normal life. For the moment, I am in a dream,” the 53-year old said.

Every Muslim is required to complete the hajj journey to Islam’s holiest sites at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.

Tens of thousands of security personnel have been deployed for the pilgrimage, which was struck by its worst ever disaster three years ago when around 2,300 worshippers were crushed to death in a stampede.

This year, the Saudis have launched a “smart hajj” initiative, with apps to help pilgrims with everything from travel plans to medical care.

The interior ministry said on Saturday that the number of pilgrims arriving in Mecca had already surpassed the 2 million mark, mostly from abroad including large contingents from Egypt, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Wearing the simple white garb of the pilgrim, most of the faithful began moving yesterday from Mecca to the nearby Mina valley.

They will spend the night there in fire-resistant tents in the desert, where temperatures top 40 degrees Celsius.

Thousands of buses and vehicles carrying the pilgrims lined the 8 kilometer road from Mecca to Mina. Many pilgrims made the journey under the scorching sun.

For the Muslim faithful, hajj retraces the last steps of the Prophet Mohammed and also honors the prophets Abraham and Ishmael.

The hajj also comes more than a year into the worst political crisis to grip the Gulf, pitting Saudi Arabia against Qatar.

Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse Qatar of cozying up to both Sunni Islamist extremists and Shiite Iran, Riyadh’s rival.

They have cut all ties with Qatar — which denies the charges — and banned all flights to and from Doha.

Qatar said yesterday that its citizens were unable to take part in the hajj because of the diplomatic dispute.

Saudi authorities have said Qatari pilgrims are allowed into the kingdom for the hajj.

Earlier in Mecca pilgrims performed a ritual walk seven times around the Kaaba, a black masonry cube wrapped in a silk cloth embroidered in gold with Koranic verses at the center of the Grand Mosque.

The shrine is the point toward which Muslims around the world pray.

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