Muslims pilgrims said they would pray for peace in India's Kashmir as they set out on the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca-Medina on Thursday (August 18).
Haj is one of the five tenets of Islam and the Quran directs the faithful to undertake it at least once in a lifetime. It involves weeklong celebrations and takes place nearly seventy days after the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Over two million pilgrims undertake Haj each year from all over the world.
This year the five-day-long Haj is expected to begin by September 10 depending on the visibility of the moon.
A batch of 65 pilgrims left for Mecca-Medina from Poonch district in northern Jammu and Kashmir state.
"We are sending off 65 Haj pilgrims including 12 women from Poonch. They will go to Sringar and from there they will directly head to Saudi (Arabia)," said Poonch District Development Commissioner, M.H. Malik in Poonch.
Authorities have made arrangements for more than 100,000 pilgrims from all over the country to undertake the holy journey this year. Another 36,000 would proceed through private tour operators.
The pilgrims said they would pray for peace in the disputed northernmost state of India.
"Inshallah (if God wills), we will go there and pray for peace and prosperity for our country. We will pray for brotherhood and harmony in the region," said a pilgrim, Mohammad Latif.
Kashmir has been under curfew for more than 40 days following violence over the killing of 22-year-old separatist militant Burhan Wani last month. At least 65 people have died and more than 3,000 injured in violent protests across the picturesque Kashmir Valley.
Haj is a commemoration of tests and trials experienced by Prophet Ibrahim and his son Hazrat Ismail, in the vicinity of Mecca, Islam's holiest pilgrimage. It is in Mecca that Prophet Mohammed established Islam religion.