More than two million Muslims begin hajj pilgrimage

Makkah: Over two million Muslims from across the world have gathered in Makkah Mukarramah for Hajj rituals, which are starting from today in Saudi Arabia . This year, the annual pilgrimage has become increasingly hi-tech with apps to help the faithful navigate Islam s holiest sites.

Saudi authorities are pushing a “smart hajj” initiative to meet with the growing demands of hajj, which coincide with the kingdom’s unprecedented modernization drive.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said on Saturday that the number of pilgrims arriving in Makkah had already surpassed the 2m mark, mostly from abroad including large contingents from Egypt, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Most of the pilgrims began moving on Sunday from Makkah to the nearby Mina valley where they will spend the night in fire-resistant tents.

Thousands of buses and vehicles carrying the pilgrims lined the 8 kilometre road from Makkah to Mina. Many pilgrims made the journey walking under the scorching heat of the sun.

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

After sunset, pilgrims will head to Muzdalifah, half-way between Arafat and Mina, where they will stay at least until midnight. They will then gather pebbles to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil on the eve of the Eidul Azha, which marks the end of Haj.

Every Muslim is required to complete the hajj at least once in their lifetime if they have the means to do so. The annual pilgrimage sees the Muslim faithful gather in Makkah, all clad in white, to perform rituals around the black Kaaba cube.

The hajj also features a symbolic stoning of the devil ceremony, marking the start of Eid al-Adha, a three-day feast. The ritual symbolizes Hazrat Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Hazrat Ismail , on the order of Allah.

This year’s pilgrimage comes with the oil-flush kingdom witnessing unprecedented change, including an end to a ban on women driving. While rights campaigners have welcomed the reforms, they have also expressed alarm about a crackdown on dissent.

Although the kingdom’s young de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has spearheaded the changes, religion remains a key force in Saudi Arabia.

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