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.
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.
say the main events, which begin Wednesday, are expected to attract
more than two million devotees from across the world.
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.
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.
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
Others pray or recite verses of the holy book Qur'an, while many sleep in corners.
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.
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.
several checkpoints on the roads leading to Mecca to prevent illegal
pilgrims, huge numbers of unauthorised devotees also join the hajj every
Many from Indonesia
A bulk of pilgrims are from Asia, mostly from Indonesia which has the highest hajj quota.
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.