Over two million Muslims gather for haj pilgrimage
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Amid tight security, hundreds of thousands of Muslims headed for Mount Arafat where they will pray on Sunday during one of the most important moments of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
REUTERS - More than two million Muslims began the haj pilgrimage on Saturday, heading to a tent camp outside the holy city of
Over the past week, a sea of worshipers swept into
"It's a bit like drinking from the sea -- no matter how much you drink your thirst is never quenched. That's why I come over and over again," said Hassan al-Sayed, an Egyptian pilgrim.
Some pilgrims walked, carrying their bags, while others took buses moving slowly through the crowds to the Mina area east of
"It's a beautiful feeling, very beautiful, especially when you see the Kaaba," said a Moroccan woman called Sanna after visiting the ancient cubic shrine at the centre of the Grand Mosque in
Late on Saturday pilgrims on foot, in buses and some in wheelchairs head to
"I pray to God to plant mercy in people's hearts," said 55-year-old carpenter Muhammad Hassan as he walked with a carpet rolled up over his shoulder, trying to find a place to sleep.
The Eid al-Adha, or feast of the sacrifice, begins on Monday, when pilgrims begin three days of casting stones at walls in a symbolic renunciation of the devil.
Authorities have made renovations over the past year to ease the flow of pilgrims inside the Grand Mosque and on the disaster-prone
"I came here because I have always wished to come," said Umm Hassan from
The flow of traffic was notably smoother than last year, as more pilgrims were transported on buses and authorities imposed stringent checks on entry points to the
The government says it will stop Saudis and foreign residents from taking part without official permits, a main cause of overcrowding. Over 1.75 million haj visas have been granted to Muslims abroad, and at least 500,000 locals receive authorisation.
"The objective of this work is to account for all pilgrims, whether they are Saudis or non-Saudis," said organiser Ahmed al-Sulaimi as security forces stopped cars at a checkpoint.
The government warned pilgrims not to politicise the haj.
There have been clashes between police and Iranian pilgrims in the past over political slogans. Sectarian tensions have arisen recently in the Arab world after Shi'ite Muslims came to power in
Disputes between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah delayed and prevented some Palestinian pilgrims from arriving, adding another potential flashpoint.
The Saudi government is also wary of militancy. Despite an al Qaeda campaign to destabilise
Islamist militants rampaged through the Indian financial capital of Mumbai last week, killing 171 people.
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