First day of annual hajj pilgrimage in Makkah

Tuesday, 21 Aug, 2018

More than two million Muslims have begun the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Some of the pilgrims - men in white seamless garments and women in loose dresses - pushed elderly relatives in wheelchairs on the second day of the hajj, one of the world´s largest annual gatherings.

The Kaaba represents the metaphorical house of God and the oneness of God. When Muslims pray five times in a day, wherever they are in the world, they face the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca.

According to him, the security aviation will monitor the security state of the pilgrims and the traffic movement, will provide logistical support to the other security sectors, will do air-evacuation tasks and closely watch the movement of pilgrims between Makkah and Madinah before and after the Haj.

The Day of Arafat falls on the 9th day of Dhul al-Hijjah.

Khalaf Aziz fled his native Syria three years ago and is performing his fourth haj, this one in honor of his grandmother who died earlier this year. Tehran had temporarily suspended sending its citizens to hajj following a 2015 stampede that left around 2,300 pilgrims dead, including hundreds of Iranians. The kingdom has never addressed the discrepancy, nor has it released any results of an investigation authorities promised to conduct over the disaster. People not only go to Mecca but they also visit the nearby holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

Politics often intrude into the holy pilgrimage.

Although the kingdom's young de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has spearheaded change in the kingdom, religion remains a key force in Saudi Arabia. Many faithful could be seen sipping from bottles of water throughout the day.

The interior ministry has put in place measures to confront any security threat from militant attacks to political protests, but no specific threats have been detected, a spokesman said on Saturday.

"Our policemen are ready to deal with any such threat and to sacrifice their lives in order to protect the pilgrimage from any threat", he said.

Last year 80,000 Egyptians journeyed to the hajj but officials say they are looking at a 20 percent drop-off this year, with only 64,000 expected to attend.

"I came for umrah (minor pilgrimage) in 2007 and today after 10 years of registering and waiting, I am here", 59-year-old Tunisian national Najwa told Reuters.

That was a feeling shared by Jordanian pilgrim Jehad Hussein.

Syrian pilgrim Mohammad Nezar said he was praying "to Allah to restore peace for people everywhere".