More than two million Muslims begin Hajj pilgrimage


A group of Qatari pilgrims have arrived in Mecca, according to an official at Saudi Arabia's hajj ministry, although he didn't say how many had arrived or if they traveled directly from Qatar.

Every able-bodied Muslim who has the means should perform the hajj at least once in their lifetime under a quota system.

On Monday, pilgrims will climb nearby Mount Arafat for the climax of the hajj, praying and reading the Quran.

Pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the kingdom's economy away from oil. The pilgrims then distribute the meat of the slaughtered animal to the poor and the needy.

Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the spokesman of the Saudi Interior Ministry, told journalists Saturday that over 2 million Muslims from overseas and inside the kingdom would be taking part in this year's hajj. They spend the night there and pick up pebbles along the way that will be used in a symbolic stoning of the devil back in Mina, where Muslims believe the devil tried to talk Ibrahim out of submitting to God's will.

Hisham Mostafa told Reuters he had momentarily forgotten the war in Syria and his financial problems as he looked upon Islam's holiest sites for the first time, standing among hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered there.

Despite soaring temperatures, momentum is building as the a major set of Hajj ritual takes millions of pilgrims, distinguished by their white robes, pouring into the tent city of Mina.

The ultra-conservative kingdom, which is undergoing dramatic social and economic reforms, has mobilised vast resources for the six-day journey, one of the five pillars of Islam. Around the world, Muslims will mark the end of hajj with a celebration called Eid al-Adha.

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Authorities are able to locate those in need through the app.

Spokesman of the Health Ministry Mishaal Al-Robaian, said the ministry has prepared 25 general hospitals and 155 health centers with a capacity of more than 5,000 beds for the pilgrims in Makkah and the holy sites.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been locked in a political feud for more than a year, with Riyadh banning all flights to and from Doha and severing diplomatic and trade ties with its neighbour.

The four countries accused Qatar of sponsoring "terrorism" and destabilizing the region, an allegation strongly denied by Doha. Qatar denies the charges.

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.

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.

While rights campaigners have welcomed the reforms, they have also expressed alarm about a crackdown on dissent.