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Muslim pilgrims flood Mecca

21 October 2012, 13:30

Mecca - Muslim pilgrims have been descending in droves on Mecca for the hajj, the world's largest annual gathering which Saudi Arabia insists will not be affected by instability shaking the region.

Walking in groups, mostly led by guides with their countries' flags printed on their garments, faithful men and women have poured into Mecca to perform the minor pilgrimage, or umrah, ahead of the major hajj rituals.

Officials say the main events, which begin Wednesday, are expected to attract more than two million devotees from across the world.

Thursday marks the most important day, when all pilgrims assemble in the Arafat plain outside Mecca. The pilgrimage ends after Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which will be celebrated on Friday.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once in lifetime.


"It's my first time in Mecca for pilgrimage. I can't wait to pray in Arafat," said 32-year-old Koara Abdulrahman, a businessman from Burkina Faso.

Inside the Grand Mosque, scores of pilgrims continually circumambulate the cube-shaped Kaaba - in which direction Muslims worldwide pray - with many pushing their way through the crowds to kiss the walls of the structure that was first built by Abraham, according to the Islamic faith.

Others pray or recite verses of the holy book Qur'an, while many sleep in corners.

"Right now, I've got all the good feelings you can think of," said an Iranian pilgrim, her voice quivering and tears welling up in her eyes.

Authorities said more than 1.6 million foreign pilgrims have already arrived and the numbers are set to grow by Wednesday. Around 750 000 domestic pilgrims are also expected to take part in the rituals.

Despite several checkpoints on the roads leading to Mecca to prevent illegal pilgrims, huge numbers of unauthorised devotees also join the hajj every year.

Many from Indonesia

A bulk of pilgrims are from Asia, mostly from Indonesia which has the highest hajj quota.

This year alone, the kingdom spent more than 1.1 billion riyals ($293.3 million) on development projects in the holy sites of Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah, all outside Mecca.

Saudi authorities have also taken measures to deal with any epidemics that may break out during the hajj, and have downplayed fears over the spread of a mystery illness from the same family as the deadly SARS virus.



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