Muslim pilgrims throng Mecca for Haj

Ahead of Haj, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, including many elderly on wheelchairs, on Monday thronged the Grand Mosque here, with pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba and chanting praises to God in unison.

Mecca: Ahead of Haj, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, including many elderly on wheelchairs, on Monday thronged the Grand Mosque here, with pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba and chanting praises to God in unison.

As the time for the world's largest religious congregation came closer, more and more people, including Indians, set to perform Haj reached Mecca.

It did not matter, what nationality, colour or group they belonged to as chants of "Labaik Allahum Labaik" (I am responding to your call, God), reverberated the Kaaba.

The enthusiasm was there to be seen with many sensing it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them.

There were many in tears while a number of elderly on wheelchairs and with disabilities did not let anything come in the way of their devotion.

"The feeling is more of excitement and the Saudi government has done a great job in facilitating the pilgrims to perform a hassle-free pilgrimage," Karim Kaliisa, a pilgrim from Uganda told.

Another pilgrim from Afghanistan, Ghulam Mohammad Sarvari, said, "It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, Allah has been very kind to give me this opportunity and come here."

Chants of AllahuAkbar (God is great) continuously reverberated.

Authorities this year were also burdened with the Ebola virus and the MERS to keep the pilgrims safe from them.

The pilgrimage comes at a time when the Muslim world faces a number of challenges particularly in Syria and Iraq.

Saudi authorities were working round-the-clock to facilitate pilgrims and 15,000 workers, including women, have been recruited to assist in the smooth movement of pilgrims inside the Grand Mosque, before, during, and after Haj.

The Saudi Health Ministry is also offering services focused on treatment and prevention of diseases while special teams monitor pilgrims who might carry contagious diseases.

More than 100 teams, including 38 stationary and 68 mobile units, are in place to handle infectious diseases.

A total of 1,36,020 Indians will perform Haj this year, out which 1,00,020 are through the Haj committee and 36,000 through private tour operators.

Ahead of Haj, King Abdullah, the custodian of the two holy mosques, said it is the duty of the Ummah (Muslim) community to abide by and protect Islamic culture when misconceptions and violence have created an atmosphere of confusion and chaos.

Meanwhile, Speaking after an annual military parade, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef gave a reassurance that the Haj would be secure.  

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