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2 mn Muslims, including 1.3 lakh Indians, begin Haj on Thursday

October 01, 2014 16:37 IST

Over 2 million Muslims, including 136,000 Indians, will begin Haj when they assemble in the valley of Mina as Saudi authorities said preparations have been completed for the world's largest annual gathering after the city underwent a multi-billion overhaul.

Mecca Governor Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah said preparations were complete for Haj which begins on Thursday.

"The plan for welcoming pilgrims was successful. All government and private agencies should mobilise their human and technical resources to make the annual event a big success," he said.

Prince Mishaal, who is chairman of the Central Haj Committee, instructed security officers not to allow pilgrims without Haj permits into the holy sites and impose sanctions on violators.

Saudi Arabia has deployed over 70,000 officers in Mecca, Madina and other holy cities to ensure safety and security of pilgrims.

A number of foreign heads of state, including Bangladesh President Mohammed Abdul Hamid, Sudanese President Omar Bashir, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, have arrived for Haj.

Pilgrims will begin leaving for Mina late in the night or Thursday early morning.

Hundreds of thousands of people continued to circumambulate the Holy Kaaba in Mecca, where the Grand Mosque has been packed with pilgrims from across the world.

In the first phase, the pilgrims will spend the night in the tent-city of Mina reciting the Holy Quran or praying.

The pilgrims this year include more than 136,000 Indians who are set to move into Mina in groups.

Pilgrims were seen filled with enthusiasm and excitement ahead of Haj as this was the first opportunity for many. From tears to a sense of reflection prevailed among the pilgrims, just a day ahead of the pilgrimage.

"The arrangements by the Indian Haj Mission and the Saudi government have been very good. All our needs are taken care of and any problem we face is looked into," Mohammad Shahid, an Indian pilgrim staying in an Azizia accommodation here told

Mohammad Nasir Uddin Ahmed, a pilgrim from Bangladesh and a Joint Secretary in the country's Ministry of Information, said he was excited as he was here for the first time.

"I came to know that I am coming here only a week ago, it is the grace of Allah that has brought me here, the almighty has bestowed this honour on me to perform Haj," Ahmed said.

"I will pray for my country and also for the well-being of the entire Muslim Ummah (community)," he said.

According to the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment, the weather in Mecca, Madina and other holy sites would be milder this season, with temperatures remaining under 36 degrees Celsius.

The Saudi government has undertaken several projects in recent years to facilitate pilgrims and ensure their safety during Haj.

As the pilgrims stream into Mecca for the annual Haj pilgrimage, they come to a city undergoing one of the most ambitious overhaul ever with a series of mega-projects that, though incomplete, have already reshaped the city.

Next to the Kaaba stands the world's third tallest skyscraper, topped by a gigantic clock, which is splashed with coloured lights at night.

This is the first time that the expanded areas of the Grand Mosque, one of the few places in the world where Muslims of all stripes gather, were used while construction was on at other places. The USD 60-billion Grand Mosque expansion will almost double the area for pilgrims to pray at the Kaaba.

About 67 per cent of the King Abdullah Haram Expansion Project has been completed.

In addition to the expansion of the Grand Mosque, the Saudi Riyal 4.2 billion multilevel hi-tech Jamarat bridge project has also been going on for the past few years.

The Jamarat bridge facilitates the stoning ritual in Mina, where stampedes have occurred in the past.

The newly-expanded Jamarat bridge in Mina can accommodate 500,000 pilgrims per hour during the Haj season, said Prince Mansour bin Miteb, Minister of Municipal and Rural affairs.

"The streets leading to Jamarat, however, cannot hold these many pilgrims. As a result, only 300,000 pilgrims can use the bridge per hour now," he said, while stressing on his ministry's plan to expand Mina's streets.

The Haj will reach its zenith on Friday, October 3, when the over two million pilgrims stand on the plains of Arafat. The pilgrimage will end after Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice.

The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam that should be performed at least once in lifetime by every Muslim who is financially and physically capable.