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2 million began Hajj pilgrimage

20 August, 2018

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More than 2 million Muslims began the annual Hajj pilgrimage Sunday in Saudi Arabia, circling the cube-shaped Kaaba from first light in Makkah that faithful face five times each day during prayers.

The five-day Hajj pilgrimage represents one of the world’s biggest gathering every year, a trip required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life.

The Hajj offers pilgrims an opportunity to feel closer to God amid the Muslim world’s many challenges, including the threat of extremists in the Mideast after the Islamic State group was beaten back in Iraq and Syria and the plight of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

“We are very blessed by Allah to be in this place, and we pray to Allah to make the Islamic nations from the West to the East in a better situation,” said Essam-Eddin Afifi, a pilgrim from Egypt. “We pray for the Islamic nations to overcome their enemies.”

Muslims circle the Kaaba counter-clockwise seven times while reciting supplications to God, then walk between the two hills. Makkah’s Grand Mosque, the world’s largest, encompasses the Kaaba and the two hills.

Before heading to Makkah, pilgrims visit the city of Medina.

After prayers in Makkah, pilgrims will head to an area called Mount Arafat on Monday. From there, pilgrims will head to an area called Muzdalifa, picking up pebbles along the way for a symbolic stoning of the devil and a casting away of sins that takes place in the Mina valley for three days.

At the Hajj’s end, male pilgrims will shave their hair and women will cut a lock of hair in a sign of renewal for completing the pilgrimage. Around the world, Muslims will mark the end of Hajj with a celebration called Eidul Azha.

Major General Mansour al-Turki, the spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, told journalists Saturday that over two million Muslims from abroad and inside the kingdom would be taking part in this year’s Hajj.

For Saudi Arabia, the Hajj is the biggest logistical challenge the kingdom faces. Its ruling Al Saud family stakes its legitimacy in part on its management of the holiest sites in Islam. King Salman’s official title is the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” at Makkah and Medina. Other Saudi kings, and the Ottoman rulers of the Hijaz region before them, all have adopted the honorary title

The kingdom has spent billions of dollars of its vast oil revenues on security and safety measures, particularly in Mina, where some of the Hajj’s deadliest incidents have occurred.

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