Amir Mohamed Khan (R), and Chouaib Milne, are pictured at a hotel in Makkah on Friday, prior to the start of Hajj. AFP
Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz 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. The survivors and relatives of victims were given a heroes’ welcome as they arrived on Aug.2. They were also greeted by the flashes of press cameras.
“I want the world to know who Atta Elayyan was,” said 27-year-old Farah Talal, dressed in a green djellaba robe and an elegant white scarf during her visit to Islam’s holiest city.
Her husband Atta was among 51 people killed when a white supremacist attacked worshippers during Friday prayers in the quiet New Zealand town, sparking global revulsion.
The Hajj, one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings, is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.
It consists of a series of religious rites which are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.
“All of the arms of state have been deployed (and) we are proud to serve as 'God’s hosts',” said security forces spokesman Bassam Attia.
In total, some 2.5 million faithful, the majority from abroad, will undertake the pilgrimage this year, according to Saudi media.
“More than 1.8 million visas were delivered online without the need for middlemen. It’s a success,” said Hajj ministry official Hatim Bin Hassan Qadi.
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.
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 on Saturday, an area about 20 kilometres east of Makkah. 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.
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 Makkah’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.
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.
In the Saudi Holy City of Makkah, dotted with fast food eateries and stalls selling Chinese-made trinkets, vendors are ready to cash in on the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Pilgrims clad in white robes signifying a state of purity spent the night in a sprawling encampment around the hill where Islam holds that God tested Abraham's faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ismail.
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