Nearly two million faithful start gathering at Mina as Haj rituals begin
MAKKAH (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims began the annual Haj on Wednesday, donning traditional white garments and heading to a tent camp outside the holy city of Makkah in an itinerary retracing the route Holy Prophet Hazrat Mohammad (PBUH) took 14 centuries ago.
Nearly two 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 Makkah, where Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) 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.
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.
All the pilgrims will arrive by Thursday morning at Mount Arafat, about 15 km (10 miles) east of Makkah.
The Eidul Azha, or feast of the sacrifice, begins on Friday, when pilgrims begin three days of casting stones at the devil.
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.