Millions of Muslims descend on Mecca for Hajj pilgrimage

Millions of Muslims have descended on the holy city of Mecca to begin a pilgrimage that sees them follow in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad.
Huge crowds are at the site in Saudi Arabia for the initial rites of The Hajj, which takes place every year and is meant to be a great equaliser among Muslims.

Those who take part shed displays of wealth and other materialistic items, with men wearing simple cloth garments and women donning conservative dress and headscarves – with no make-up, nail polish or perfume.

Image: More than two million Muslims are expected to attend this year
It is one of the largest and most diverse gatherings in the world.
Officials say more than 1.8 million people have travelled from abroad this time round, with several hundred thousand more coming from Saudi Arabia.

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The total attendance last year was 2.4 million and a similar turnout is likely again.

:: ‘An awesome, gargantuan sight’: Millions make pilgrimage to Mecca

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Image: The new high-speed railway line linking Mecca and Medina will help pilgrims reach their destination
Among those in attendance are 200 survivors and relatives of victims of the terror attack at mosques in Christchurch, having been invited as guests of Saudi King Salman.
Two of the places of worship in the New Zealand city were targeted by a gunman in March this year, with 51 people killed.
Muslim minorities around the globe are facing heightened threats, with the Uighurs experiencing repression in China and allegations of genocide by authorities in Myanmar against the Rohingya.
And in Kashmir, Muslims are under a sweeping curfew and communication blackout after the state was placed under lockdown by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Image: Everyone has to dress down to promote a sense of equality
The 2019 Hajj is also taking place amid a backdrop of political and sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the host nation also involved in conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya.
But its popularity and the commitment of those who take part will endure, as the event is seen as an opportunity to erase past sins and strengthen faith in Islam.
The Hajj is one of five pillars of the religion and all Muslims are required to take part at least once in their lifetime, so long as they are financially and physically able to do so.

Image: The pilgrimage lasts for six days
In order to make it more accessible, Saudi Arabia has unveiled the first phase of a new high-speed train connecting pilgrims between holy sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina.
The kingdom also has a new e-visa system for pilgrims.
But one country where pilgrims will not be arriving from is the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the kingdom having stopped issuing visas to nationals there due to fears over the Ebola outbreak.
More than 1,600 people have died in the country as a result, and the World Health Organisation recently said it constituted a “global public health emergency”.

Source : Sky News