Over 2 million Muslims begin Haj

More than two million Muslims begin the annual Haj, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, on Friday.

“All of the arms of state have been deployed (and) we are proud to serve as ‘God’s hosts’,” said security forces spokesperson 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 1.8 million visas were delivered online without the need for middlemen. It’s a success,” said Haj ministry official Hatim bin Hassan Qadi.

“We feel cleansed by achieving this pillar of Islam and meeting people from across the world. It’s marvellous,” said Mohamed Jaafar, a 40-year-old Egyptian pilgrim.

“It’s an indescribable feeling. You have to live it to understand it,” said an Algerian in his fifties completing the pilgrimage for the first time.

“It’s a golden opportunity and moment,” said his female companion.

Worshippers will participate in weekly prayers late on Friday morning.

During the pilgrimage, men and women 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 Quran recitals.

After descending, they will gather pebbles and perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.

That marks the beginning of Eidul Azha, the festival of sacrifice, marked on Sunday in Saudi Arabia and the next day in Pakistan.

Pilgrims then return to the Grand Mosque to perform a final “tawaf” or walk around the Kaaba.

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