Muslims crowd Mecca ahead of hajj

2016-09-08 16:42
A woman touches the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, for blessing at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. (Nariman El-Mofty, AP)

A woman touches the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, for blessing at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. (Nariman El-Mofty, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Mecca - Close to 1.5 million Muslims from around the world had descended on Thursday on Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage, undeterred by last year's stampede disaster but with Iranians absent.

As temperatures exceeded 40°C, pilgrims crowded into Mecca's sprawling, air-conditioned Grand Mosque complex to walk around the Kaaba - the black cube that Muslims across the globe face while they pray.

In one of the first rites of hajj, which formally starts on Saturday, white-clad pilgrims take their turn circling the Kaaba in a procession that continues 24 hours a day.

Pilgrims who cannot walk are pushed around the mosque in wheelchairs by workers.

Regularly-spaced taps provide thirsty pilgrims with spring water, and visitors can eat under large fast food signs at a commercial centre inside the complex, where they are also able to shop.

But as soon as loudspeakers sound the call to prayer, the shops are shuttered and the faithful line up to worship.

Outside at all the Grand Mosque's entrances, Saudi police control the movement of pilgrims between green plastic barriers.

Step out of line, and a policeman calls through a megaphone to order them back into place.

At prayer time, access to the Kaaba is suspended and the walk around it is stopped to avoid overcrowding.

It is one of several safety measures authorities say they have implemented after, according to data from foreign officials, close to 2 300 pilgrims died during the hajj stoning ritual last year.

The stampede and security had been on the mind of a pilgrim from Ivory Coast, who gave her name only as Mrs Coulibaly, 49.

"But since arriving at the airport we have been taken charge of and well supervised. So I feel at ease and totally dedicated to my prayers," she said.

For the first time in almost three decades Iranians will not join the pilgrimage after talks between Tehran and Riyadh on logistics and security fell apart in May.

Iran sent 60 000 pilgrims last year, and claimed the largest number of stampede fatalities, at 464.

Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran are regional rivals who have had no diplomatic relations since early this year.

They are at odds over a number of regional issues including Syria and Yemen.

Verbal sparring between the two Islamic powers has intensified ahead of this year's pilgrimage.

Read more on:    saudi arabia  |  iran  |  religion  |  hajj

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.