Islamic Lifestyle 

Muslims begin annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca

| 30 August, 2017
 Mahmoud Mourad
Muslims begin annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca
Photo: A pilgrim woman makes her way on the first day of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Arafat, Saudi Arabia August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

AUGUST 30, 2017 | 1:21PM EDT | MECCA

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Wednesday, donning traditional white garments and heading to a tent camp outside the holy city of Mecca in an itinerary retracing the route Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries ago.

Nearly 2 million worshippers, from nearly every country, arrived in Saudi Arabia this week for the five-day ritual, which is a once-in-a-lifetime religious duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

Some prayed at the Grand Mosque before heading to the Mina area or towards Mount Arafat, east of Mecca, where the Prophet is believed to have delivered his final sermon to followers.

They walked or took buses, with traffic police using loudspeakers to try to direct crowds speaking a medley of languages. They were dressed in simple white robes, marking a state of ihram, or ritual purity.

For a graphic on the Haj journey, click: here

Moroccan pilgrim Rida al-Belaqili, waiting to board a bus to Arafat, struggled to find words to describe his feelings.

“We are meeting people from every country and every nationality. There is a sort of unity,” he said. “I hope this will recharge Muslims’ faith and spirituality. I ask God to grant me and all Muslims forgiveness.”

He is performing haj with his wife, Latifa al-Omari, for the second time.

“Haj is not a hardship. This joy and happiness makes you forget everything,” she said.

Saudi Arabia Arafat_Pilgrims make their way on first day of haj_30 August 2017
Photo: Pilgrims make their way on the first day of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Arafat, Saudi Arabia August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

All the pilgrims will arrive by Thursday morning at Mount Arafat, about 15 km (10 miles) east of Mecca.

The Eid al-Adha, or feast of the sacrifice, begins on Friday, when pilgrims begin three days of casting stones at walls in a symbolic renunciation of the devil.

The world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims has in the past seen deadly stampedes, fires and riots, with authorities sometimes struggling to respond.

A crush in 2015 killed nearly 800 pilgrims, according to Riyadh, although counts by countries of repatriated bodies showed over 2,000 people may have died, more than 400 of them Iranians.

Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites - Mecca and Medina - and organizing the pilgrimage.

Authorities say they have taken all necessary precautions, with more than 100,000 members of the security forces and 30,000 health workers on hand to maintain safety and provide first aid.

Saudi Arabia Arafat_Saudi security control traffic on first day of haj_30 August 2017
Photo: Saudi security control traffic on the first day of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Arafat, Saudi Arabia August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

For a graphic on Haj stampedes, click: here

(Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Alison Williams)

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