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Nearly 1.5 million Muslims begin annual haj in Saudi Arabia's Mecca

The pilgrims will complete preliminary rituals in Mecca at the Grand Mosque first and will start moving today, taking buses, trains or even on foot to Mina, about five kilometres east.? Photograph: (Getty)

WION Saudi Arabia Sep 10, 2016, 02.43 AM (IST)
Undeterred by a stampede that killed about  2,300 people last year, about 1.5 million Muslims from Asia, Africa and points in between, begin the annual hajj in western Saudi Arabia today, AFP reported. 

The city of Mecca receives 20 million visitors annually, but around three million pilgrims of a religion, that has around 1.5 billion followers worldwide, visit the city during the annual pilgrimage.

This year, however, tens of thousands of Iranians are absent because of long-running tensions between their Shiite nation and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia. The tensions have increased between the two countries after last year's stampede killed 464 Iranian pilgrims, according to AFP.  


Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam 

The pilgrims will complete preliminary rituals in Mecca at the Grand Mosque first and will start moving today, taking buses, trains or even on foot to Mina, about five kilometres east. 

During hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims retrace the footsteps of Prophet Mohammed who performed the same rituals about 1,400 years ago.

Traditionally, the first day of Hajj offers a chance for the pilgrims to give water to their animals and store water. The pilgrims then proceed to Mount Arafat, for the peak of Hajj. 
 
During hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims retrace the footsteps of Prophet Mohammed who performed the same rituals about 1,400 years ago.

They then proceed to Mina, where white fireproof tents are set up for shelter. The tents can accommodate 2.6 million people. 

Mina becomes their base, where an expanse of white fireproof tents can accommodate 2.6 million pilgrims.

Hajj to boost economy

Ossama Fadhul al Bar, mayor of Mecca, has said large crowds will benefit the economy.

"For the state, the Hajj is a cost center, but for the private sector, it's a profit center. On an average, two million pilgrims contribute 17 billion dollars to the housing sector, 200 million to transportation and about 1.2 billion to the food and beverage sector. It's a season that has a huge impact on the city's economy."

The kingdom also has an ambitious plan to expand the holy mosques, widen roads, and build trains and other transport infrastructure. 

The first phase is expected to cost 120 billion Dollars, reports Reuters.

Till now the Mosque has been expanded from 300,000 to 1.5 million square metres. Its capacity has increased from 600,000 worshippers to two million.

(WION with inputs from agencies) 
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