Approximately two million Muslims, Saudis and foreigners, have started their trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia on Friday, marking the beginning of the Hajj pilgrimage this year, the most massive gathering of Islam.
Pilgrims have been transported by buses from several countries to the desert valley of Mina, seven kilometers from the Great Mosque of the holy city of Mecca. They will stay at night in the city-camp Mina, which can accommodate up to 2.6 million pilgrims, according to the Saudi news agency, SPA.
On Saturday very early, the pilgrims will go to Mount Arafat, about 20 kilometers from Mecca, where the Hajj will reach its peak. This mountain of granite is the place from which the Prophet Muhammad delivered his last speech 14 centuries ago and is where every year millions of Muslims plead with Allah for forgiveness of their sins. This year’s Hajj will end next Tuesday.
This year the Hajj is celebrated amid great tension between the United States and Iran, a local actor who maintains a rivalry with Saudi Arabia. In the last days before the celebration, the Saudi authorities have warned pilgrims to concentrate on worship and not deal with political issues during the pilgrimage.
«The kingdom will not allow anyone to damage the safety of pilgrims or hinder their sacred rituals,» said the spokesman for the Interior Ministry of Saudi Arabia, Mansour al Turki. The authorities have deployed thousands of security agents and medical personnel to assist all pilgrims.
Some Qatari citizens have traveled to Mecca this year, despite the dispute between the two countries over the alleged collaboration of Qatar with armed groups, which caused the block of countries led by Saudi Arabia to cut all diplomatic ties with Doha.
«Those who have arrived (Qataris) are few despite the facilities offered by Saudi Arabia,» said the spokesman for the Ministry of Saudi Haj, Hatem Qadi, who has accused the Government of Qatar of blocking the web pages they had created for that Qatari citizens register for the pilgrimage.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It forces everyone with sufficient resources and good health to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime.