sunny.png
Thursday October 17th, 2019 2:29PM

Over 2 million Muslims in Mecca for start of hajj pilgrimage

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — More than 2 million pilgrims were gathered in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia on Friday to perform initial rites of the hajj, an Islamic pilgrimage that takes the faithful along a path traversed by the Prophet Muhammad some 1,400 years ago.

The hajj in Islam is meant to be a great equalizer and unifier among Muslims, with pilgrims shedding overt displays of wealth and materialism. All male pilgrims wear simple terry cloth white garments and women don conservative dress and headscarves, forgoing makeup, nail polish and perfume in an effort to draw closer to God and engage in intense worship for the five-day hajj.

On Friday, thousands of pilgrims circled the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca, Islam's holiest site. They circle the Kaaba counter-clockwise, their hearts tilting toward the structure that's meant to symbolize the monotheistic principle of the oneness of God in Islam. Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba daily, using compasses to help them pray in its direction.

The hajj is one of the largest and most diverse gatherings in the world, drawing more than 1.8 million people from around the world this year, according to Saudi officials. Several hundred thousand more pilgrims are Saudi residents or citizens. Last year, 2.4 million people took part in the hajj, with similar numbers expected for 2019.

"I am very happy now. It is the first time I am here in Mecca. I am very excited," Siti Haslina Yousof, a Malaysian pilgrim in Mecca, said.

The U.S. consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia said some 20,000 U.S. citizens and residents were expected to take part in this year's hajj.

The pilgrimage this year takes place amid a backdrop of political and sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and as conflicts continue to flare in Yemen, Syria and Libya. Muslim minorities around the world also face increased threats, with Uighurs facing repression in China, Rohingya facing genocide in Myanmar and Kashmiris under a sweeping curfew and communication blackout in the Indian-administered territory.

"I cannot express my feelings. The atmosphere is spiritual, still and tranquil. We hope Yemen will be united for good," said Ali Ahmed Al-Sudani, a Yemeni pilgrim who said he was praying for unity in his war-torn country.

Saudi King Salman invited as his guests to the hajj this year 200 survivors and relatives of victims of a shooting spree in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a white gunman opened fire and killed 51 people in two mosques.

Those on the hajj view the pilgrimage as an opportunity to strengthen one's faith, erase past sins and start anew. The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, required of all Muslims to perform once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able.

For the well-heeled, the pilgrimage includes a partial stay in towering five-star hotels with lavish buffets overlooking the Kaaba. But for most, it means sleeping in simple accommodations or even spending weeks sleeping on the ground around Mecca's Grand Mosque to perform daily prayers and rites near the Kaaba ahead of the hajj.

Many pilgrims will save for years to perform the hajj. Charities and wealthier Muslims often also help fund those unable to cover the costs.

In addition to being financially costly, the hajj is physically demanding, involving much walking and travel between various points along the route.

To ease the journey, the kingdom recently unveiled the first phase of a new high-speed train connecting pilgrims between holy sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina. The kingdom also has a new e-visa system in place for pilgrims.

Still, the hajj remains a precarious journey. In 2015, several thousand pilgrims died in a stampede and crush of pilgrims in Mina on a narrow pedestrian-only road leading to a site where Muslims take part in the symbolic stoning of the devil during the last three days of the hajj. The government never released a final death count.

To curb the potential for a viral outbreak of any kind, Saudi Arabia this year stopped issuing visas to people from Congo, citing the Ebola outbreak there.

By Friday evening, most pilgrims will be in Mina, where they will spend the night in air-conditioned tents, before heading to Mount Arafat early Saturday, an area about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Mecca. There, the more than 2 million pilgrims will stand shoulder to shoulder for an emotional day of repentance and supplication at the site where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon, calling for equality and unity among Muslims.

"We feel very excited and will pray for all people," said Malaysian pilgrim, Farida bin Abdulrahman, as she prepared to depart toward Mina for the evening.

___

Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP World News
© Copyright 2019 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Walmart removes images of violence in stores after shooting
Walmart says it's removing all signs, displays from its stores that depict violence, following a mass shooting at its El Paso, Texas location that left 22 people dead
10:00AM ( 8 minutes ago )
UK economy shrinks for first time since 2012 as Brexit bites
The British economy shrank in the second quarter of the year for the first time in six and a half years largely because Brexit uncertainties weighed heavily on business investment
9:56AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Over 2 million Muslims in Mecca for start of hajj pilgrimage
More than 2 million Muslim pilgrims gather in holy Saudi city of Mecca to perform initial rites of hajj pilgrimage
9:50AM ( 17 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Pakistan cancels another train link with India
Pakistan says it is suspending the Thar Express, its last remaining train link with India, in response to New Delhi's revocation of disputed Kashmir's special status
8:08AM ( 1 hour ago )
US-China trade war weakening demand for oil
The International Energy Agency says the U.S.-China trade war and a decline in world economic growth are weakening demand for oil
7:48AM ( 2 hours ago )
Richard Gere visits migrants stuck at sea in Mediterranean
Actor Richard Gere is visiting rescued migrants on board a humanitarian ship that has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea for over a week.
7:41AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP World News
Walmart removes images of violence in stores after shooting
Walmart says it's removing all signs, displays from its stores that depict violence, following a mass shooting at its El Paso, Texas location that left 22 people dead
10:00AM ( 8 minutes ago )
UK economy shrinks for first time since 2012 as Brexit bites
The British economy shrank in the second quarter of the year for the first time in six and a half years largely because Brexit uncertainties weighed heavily on business investment
9:56AM ( 11 minutes ago )
UN food agency to boost aid for 4 Central American countries
The World Food Program says it's planning to nearly quadruple the number of people that the U.N. agency helps in four central American countries affected by drought, seen as one of the drivers of migration through the region
9:43AM ( 24 minutes ago )
Armed man arrested at Missouri Walmart; no shots fired
Police in Springfield, Missouri, say they have arrested an armed man who showed up a Walmart store wearing body armor, sending panicked shoppers fleeing the store
9:42AM ( 26 minutes ago )
The Latest: 8,000 Pakistanis protest near Indian embassy
About 8,000 supporters of a Pakistani Islamist party are marching toward the Indian embassy in Islamabad to denounce New Delhi's actions to change the special status of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir
9:39AM ( 28 minutes ago )