Hajj pilgrimage begins
More than two million Muslims begin the annual Hajj yesterday as the Saudi hosts seek to deter politicisation of the pilgrimage against a backdrop of simmering Gulf tensions. The Hajj, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, is one of Islam’s five pillars and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.
It consists of a series of religious rites which are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia. “All of the arms of state have been deployed (and) we are proud to serve as ‘God’s hosts’,” said security forces spokesman Bassam Attia. In total some 2.5 million faithful, the majority from abroad, will undertake the pilgrimage this year, according to local media.
“More than 1.8m visas were delivered online without the need for middlemen. It’s a success,” said Hajj ministry official Hatim bin Hassan Qadi. Makkah, built in a desert valley, is home to the Kaaba, a cube structure that is the focal point of Islam and draped in a gold-embroidered black cloth. Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba, which is located in the Grand Mosque, and pilgrims walk around it seven times.
Worshippers will participate in weekly prayers late on Friday morning. During the pilgrimage separate streams of men and women, grouped by nationality, will travel to Mina on foot or in buses provided by the authorities. A district of Makkah, Mina sits in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains and is transformed each year into a vast encampment for pilgrims. A total of “350,000 air-conditioned tents have been pitched,” said a Saudi official.
Worshippers will climb Mount Arafat, also known as the “Mount of Mercy,” for hours of prayers and Qur’an recitals. After descending, they will gather pebbles and perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil.” That marks the beginning of Eid Al Adha, the festival of sacrifice, marked on Sunday