Over 2 million flock to Makkah as hajj begins

Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Makkah September 27, 2014.

Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Makkah September 27, 2014.

Millions of Muslims are converging on Islam’s holy city of Makkah as the annual hajj pilgrimage begins Thursday.

Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, occurs in Dhul Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. It requires pilgrims to perform ten rituals before and during the holy journey.

Men and women wear simple white clothes and commemorate the acts of Prophet Abraham and his family during the pilgrimage.

They circle around the Kaaba, a cubic building at the center of the Grand Mosque that Muslims face for prayer, and perform other acts of worship at further locations.

On the first day of hajj, pilgrims proceed to Mina for prayer then head to the field of Arafat on the next day, a step considered the main ritual of hajj.

Pilgrims stay in Arafat until sunset offering prayers. They later spend the night at Muzdalfa, before they head back to Mina to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil.

The stoning stage falls on the third day of hajj, which marks Eid al-Adha, a feast celebrated by Muslims, and where animals are slaughtered to mark the sacrifice of Abraham and Ishmael.

The Directorate General of Passports in Saudi Arabia said there are 1,365,106 foreign pilgrims this year.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up its security and safety measures around hajj sites to ensure the smooth flow of pilgrims.

Pilgrims from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have been barred from performing Hajj this year to reduce the risk of spreading the Ebola virus in the kingdom.

 
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