Around two million worshippers begin Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia

Some two million Muslim pilgrims have officially begun the annual Hajj pilgrimage, making their way out of Mecca after circling Islam's holiest site, the Kaaba, and converging on a vast tent camp in the nearby desert for a day and night of prayer.

Pilgrims have been doing the ritual circuit around the Kaaba since arriving in Mecca in recent days. As the last ones performed it on Monday, the pilgrims made their way by foot or by bus to Mina, where they will camp in one of the largest tent cities in the world.

They will pray throughout the day and night before travelling on Tuesday to Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his final sermon.

Mina is vast and open, with little respite from the desert heat and blazing sun. Soldiers sprayed pilgrims with water to cool them down.

The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do it.

For pilgrims, it is a deeply moving spiritual experience that absolves sins, brings them closer to God and unites the world's more than 1.8 billion Muslims. Some spend years saving up money and waiting for a permit to embark on the journey.

The rituals during Hajj largely commemorate the Quran's accounts of Ibrahim, his son Ismail and Ismail's mother Hajar.

Egyptian businessman Yehya Al-Ghanam said he was at a loss for words to describe his feelings upon arriving at Mina.

“Tears will fall from my eyes out of joy and happiness,” he said. “I do not sleep. I have not slept for 15 days, only an hour a day," overwhelmed by the magnitude of the emotions surrounding his pilgrimage.

After Arafat, pilgrims collect pebbles from a site known as Muzdalifa to be used in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.

The final three days of the Hajj coincide with the festive Eid al Adha holiday when Muslims around the world distribute the meat of livestock to the poor.

Extreme heat

One of the biggest risks this year at the Hajj, which follows the lunar calendar, is heat, especially after maximum age restrictions were removed.

Habbia Abdel Nasser, a Moroccan woman who was performing the rituals with her husband, needed urgent medical treatment near the Grand Mosque because of the heat.

"The weather is very hot here compared to Morocco and we feel exhausted," said her husband, 62-year-old businessman Rahim Abdel Nasser, as he poured water on her head to cool her down.

The Health Ministry has recommended pilgrims use umbrellas during the day and has told the sick and elderly to stay indoors around midday to "avoid sunstroke".

Four hospitals and 26 clinics are ready to assist ailing pilgrims in Mina, and more than 190 ambulances have been deployed, officials said.


Source: TRT