MAKKAH: Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world on Tuesday began moving from the holy city of Makkah to nearby Mina for the start of the Hajj, the world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims.
Saudi authorities have made elaborate arrangements for the pilgrims in Mina, where thousands of tents have been set up to host the ‘guests of Allah’.
Almost two million people are expected to take part in this year’s pilgrimage.
Nearby, both men and women sat side by side listening to preachers explain the history and rituals of Hajj.
This year’s Hajj begins against a backdrop of increased jihadi violence, a surge of the deadly MERS virus and with Saudi Arabia at war in Yemen.
The first day of Hajj is known as Tarwiah Day, when pilgrims traditionally watered their animals and stocked water for their trip to Mount Arafat, about 10 kilometres (six miles) southeast of Mina.
Nowadays pilgrims spend their time there in prayer and reciting the Quran.
The climax of the Hajj season is on Arafat Day, which falls on Wednesday.
With the start of Hajj, pilgrims enter the stage of ihram — a state of purity in which they must not wear perfume, cut their nails, or trim their hair or beards.
During ihram, men wear a seamless two-piece shroud-like white garment, symbolising resurrection and emphasising unity regardless of social status or nationality.
Women must wear loose dresses exposing only their faces and hands.
They are following the 1,400-year-old tradition of the Prophet Mohammad (P.B.U.H).
The Hajj is among the five pillars of Islam and every capable Muslim must perform the pilgrimage at least once in their life.
to Mount Arafat, about 10 kilometres southeast of Mina.
– Arafat Day, on the 9th of Zilhaj, (September 23) is the climax of the Hajj season. Pilgrims gather on the hill known as Mount Arafat, and its surrounding plain, where they remain until evening for prayer and Quran recitals. Prophet Mohammed (P.B.U.H) delivered his final Hajj sermon there.
– After sunset on the 9th of Zilhaj, pilgrims leave for Muzdalifah, half-way between Arafat and Mina, where they stay at least until midnight. They gather pebbles to perform ‘Rami’, the symbolic stoning of the devil.
– Eid al-Azha –
– After dawn prayers on the 10th of Zilhaj, or the Eid ul-Azha feast, pilgrims return to Mina. The first of three stoning rites, known as Jamarat al-Aqabah, begins after sunrise. Traditionally, seven pebbles are thrown at a post representing the devil, emulating the actions of Hazrat Ibrahim (A.S).
Since 2004, it has been replaced by walls to accommodate the rising numbers of pilgrims and avoid deadly incidents.
– After the first stoning, sheep are slaughtered and the meat distributed to needy Muslims, symbolising Hazrat Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Hazrat Ismail (A.S) on the order of God, who provided a lamb in the boy’s place at the last moment.
Pilgrims no longer carry out this rite themselves. They instead pay agencies to distribute the meat to the world’s needy.
– Men then shave their heads or trim their hair while women cut a fingertip-length of their hair. After that they can end their Ihram and change back to normal clothing.
Pilgrims return to the Masjid al Haram in Makkah, circumambulating seven times around the Kaaba, before again performing Sa’i. – AFP