Almost 1.5 million Muslims begin Hajj

From Asia, Africa and points in between, nearly 1.
Almost 1.5 million Muslims begin Hajj
File Photo

From Asia, Africa and points in between, nearly 1.5 million Muslims began the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia to Islam's holiest sites today, undeterred by last year's deadly stampede.

The numbers are down because of the absence of tens of thousands of Iranians over tensions between their nation and the Gulf kingdom. The 2015 stampede magnified those frictions.

After preliminary rituals this week in Makkah at the Grand Mosque, pilgrims moved today, many by bus, to Mina several kilometres east. In debilitating temperatures exceeding 40 C (100 F), some pilgrims walked under coloured parasols.

They are following in the footsteps of their Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

"It's an indescribable feeling. You have to live it to understand. This is my sixth Hajj and I still cannot express how happy I am to be in Makkah," said Hassan Muhammed, 60, from Egypt. The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which capable Muslims must perform at least once, marking the spiritual peak of their lives.

"People come from every country of the world, talk every language of the world, and meet here in one place under one banner, the profession of the Muslim faith," said Ashraf Zalat, 43, also from Egypt.

The first day of Hajj was traditionally the chance for pilgrims to let their animals drink and to stock up on water. Then they proceed to Mount Arafat, several kilometres further, for the peak of the Hajj tomorrow.

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