Hundreds of thousands flock to Makkah to perform Haj

As of late on Monday, around 1.5 million pilgrims arrived in Saudi Arabia from abroad, most of them by air: The official Saudi Press Agency

By AFP

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Faithful pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Meakkah on June 11, 2024 ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage.  — AFP
Faithful pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Meakkah on June 11, 2024 ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage. — AFP

Published: Wed 12 Jun 2024, 2:52 PM

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have flocked to the Saudi holy city of Makkah for the Haj pilgrimage, unfolding this year in the shadow of the Gaza war.

One of the world's largest annual religious gatherings officially begins on Friday, and Saudi officials are trying to keep the focus on prayers.


The Gulf kingdom's minister in charge of religious pilgrimages, Tawfiq Al Rabiah, warned last week that "no political activity" will be tolerated.

The Haj one of the five pillars of Islam, must be performed at least once by all Muslims with the means.


As of late Monday around 1.5 million pilgrims had arrived in Saudi Arabia from abroad, most of them by air, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

"It's magnificent," Mariam Comate, a 48-year-old from Ivory Coast, told AFP after reaching Makkah'ss Grand Mosque.

"When I first saw the holy Kaaba, I was amazed," she said, referring to the black cubic structure in the mosque towards which all Muslims pray.

Last year saw more than 1.8 million people complete the Haj rites, which last for several days. Around 90 per cent came from overseas, mainly from elsewhere in the Arab world and from Asia, according to official figures.

Israel's withering military operations against Hamas militants in Gaza have "created a lot of anger in (the) broader Muslim world", turning this year's Haj into a "test" for Saudi leaders, said Umer Karim, an expert on Saudi politics at the University of Birmingham.

"Protest or performance is bound to happen by individuals or groups of pilgrims, and Saudis understand this is a slippery slope," he said. "Thus for Saudi rulers conducting Haj is a matter of prestige but also a test of their governance."

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, issued a decree on Monday to host 1,000 pilgrims "from the families of martyrs and the wounded from the Gaza Strip", bringing to 2,000 the number of Palestinian pilgrims to be hosted this year, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Pilgrims arrive in Makkah on June 11 ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage.  — AFP
Pilgrims arrive in Makkah on June 11 ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage. — AFP

The rites in Makkah and its surroundings fall again this year during the hot Saudi summer, with officials forecasting average high temperatures of 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit).

Last year, more than 2,000 people suffered heat stress, which includes heatstroke, exhaustion, cramps and rashes, according to Saudi authorities.

A female Saudi security forces member gives a salute during a military parade as pilgrims arrive for the annual Haj pilgrimage in Makkah on June 10, 2024. — AFP
A female Saudi security forces member gives a salute during a military parade as pilgrims arrive for the annual Haj pilgrimage in Makkah on June 10, 2024. — AFP

Pilgrims have already arrived en masse in Makkah to begin circling the holy Kaaba.

Managing the gathering represents "a logistical achievement", said Bernard Haykel, a Saudi expert at Princeton University, with extensive surveillance and monitoring in place for security and health reasons.

Umrah, the pilgrimage which can be performed throughout the year, drew 13.5 million faithful last year, and authorities are targeting 30 million Haj and Umrah pilgrims by 2030.



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