More than two million Muslims begin hajj pilgrimage
The Saudi Arabian kingdom has mobilized vast resources for the six-day journey, one of the five pillars of Islam.
This year, 80,000 people from Turkey have traveled to Saudi Arabia for Hajj.
“It’s the dream of every Muslim to come here to Mecca,” Frenchman Soliman Ben Mohri said.
“It’s the ultimate journey. What worries me is the return to my normal life. For the moment, I am in a dream,” the 53-year old said.
Every Muslim is required to complete the hajj journey to Islam’s holiest sites at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.
Tens of thousands of security personnel have been deployed for the pilgrimage, which was struck by its worst ever disaster three years ago when around 2,300 worshippers were crushed to death in a stampede.
This year, the Saudis have launched a “smart hajj” initiative, with apps to help pilgrims with everything from travel plans to medical care.
The interior ministry said on Aug. 18 that the number of pilgrims arriving in Mecca had already surpassed the two million mark, mostly from abroad including large contingents from Egypt, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Wearing the simple white garb of the pilgrim, most of the faithful began moving on Sunday from Mecca to the nearby Mina valley.
They will spend the night there in fire-resistant tents in the desert, where temperatures top 40 degrees Celsius.
Thousands of buses and vehicles carrying the pilgrims lined the eight kilometre (five-mile) road from Mecca to Mina. Many pilgrims made the journey walking under the scorching sun.
For the Muslim faithful, hajj retraces the last steps of the Prophet Mohammed and also honors the prophets Abraham and Ishmael.
It ends with the Eid al-Adha feast, which is marked by the slaughter of sheep, a tribute to Abraham’s sacrifice of a lamb after God spared Ishmael, his son.
Earlier in Mecca pilgrims performed a ritual walk seven times around the Kaaba, a black masonry cube wrapped in a silk cloth embroidered in gold with Koranic verses at the centre of the Grand Mosque.
The shrine is the point towards which Muslims around the world pray.
Tomorrow, pilgrims will climb Mount Arafat for the climax of the hajj, praying and reading the Koran. The prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon from the rocky hill to Muslims who had accompanied him on his final hajj, according to Islam.
After sunset, pilgrims head to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they stay at least until midnight. They gather pebbles to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil on the eve of the Eid al-Adha feast.