2 million people expected to take part in this year's haj

Muslim pilgrims circling counterclockwise Islam's holiest shrine, the Kaaba, at the Grand Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Mecca, late on Monday.
Muslim pilgrims circling counterclockwise Islam's holiest shrine, the Kaaba, at the Grand Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Mecca, late on Monday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MECCA • Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world have begun moving from the holy city of Mecca to nearby Mina for the start of the haj.

Almost two million people are expected to take part in this year's pilgrimage, undeterred by a crane collapse in Mecca earlier this month that killed 109 people and injured nearly 400 at Islam's holiest site.

"It is a gift from God that He has chosen us to come here," said Ms Walaa Ali, a 35-year-old Egyptian pilgrim.

Nearby, men and women sat listening to preachers explain the history and rituals of the haj, one of the world's largest annual gatherings.

This year's pilgrimage begins against a backdrop of increased militant violence, a surge of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus and with Saudi Arabia at war in Yemen.

The first day of the haj is known as Tarwiyah Day, when pilgrims traditionally watered their animals and stocked water for their trip to Mount Arafat, about 10km south-east of Mina. Nowadays, pilgrims spend their time there in prayer and reciting the Quran.

The climax of the haj season is on Arafat Day, today.

The interior ministry says 100,000 police have been deployed for security.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline '2 million people expected to take part in this year's haj'. Print Edition | Subscribe