Mecca: The world`s largest annual
pilgrimage, the Hajj, began on Sunday with hundreds of thousands
of Muslims pouring into the camp of Mina from Mecca to prepare
for solemn rituals.
The pilgrims are estimated to total up to 2.5 million
this year, a major headache for the Saudi authorities who have
yet to report any major incidents since the faithful descended
on the holy city.
Many took buses but some had already set off on foot
overnight as they headed to the vast plain of Mina, a small
village about five kilometres east of Mecca that comes to life
for just five days a year.
Authorities say permits have been granted to 1.7
million foreign pilgrims, with a further 200,000 or so issued
to pilgrims from within Saudi Arabia and from neighbouring
This year has seen a crackdown on pilgrims who do not
have the requisite papers as authorities attempt to prevent
numbers getting out of hand.
A driver caught transporting unauthorised pilgrims
faces a fine of USD 2,667 for each individual. Vehicles with a
capacity below 25 passengers have also been banned from
entering hajj sites to streamline the flow of buses
The passage to Mina marks the official launch of the
hajj on the eighth day of the Muslim calendar month of Dhul
The day is known as Tarwiah (Watering) as pilgrims in
the past stopped at Mina to water their animals and stock up
for the following day`s trip to Mount Arafat.
At Mount Arafat, some 10 kilometres southeast of Mina,
the pilgrims spend the day in prayer and reflection.
After sunset, they move on to Muzdalifah, halfway
between Mount Arafat and Mina, where they spend the night.
On Tuesday, the first day of Eid Al-Adha or the Feast
of the Sacrifice, the pilgrims head back to Mina after dawn
prayers. They then perform the first stage of the symbolic
"stoning of the devil" and make the ritual sacrifice of an
animal, usually a lamb.
During the remaining three days of the hajj, the
pilgrims continue the ritual stoning before performing the
circumambulation of the Kaaba shrine in Mecca and heading
The movement of pilgrims between the holy sites is a
major worry for Saudi authorities who have had to deal with
deadly stampedes in the past.
In recent years, the kingdom has used its huge oil
revenues for massive spending on new infrastructure to ease
the flow of people.
Saudi King Abdullah on Saturday appointed Prince
Nayef, his second deputy prime minister, to replace him in
overseeing the hajj as he is resting due to a herniated disc.