Mecca meets over 2 million pilgrims as Hajj begins
More than 2 million pilgrims have gathered in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform initial rites of Hajj, an Islamic pilgrimage that takes the faithful along a path traversed by the Prophet Muhammad some 1,400 years ago.
Hajj in Islam is meant to unify Muslims, with pilgrims shedding displays of wealth and materialism.
Male pilgrims wearing simple terry cloth white garments and women in conservative dress and headscarves are circling the cube-shaped Kaaba on Friday.
Tens of thousands of security personnel, including more than 17,000 civil defence employees, are deployed to help safeguard pilgrims, officials say. Thousands of security cameras have been set up along the pilgrimage route.
Twenty-five hospitals, 156 health centres and more than 30,000 health practitioners have been prepped to provide emergency services to pilgrims, according to state media and the hajj ministry.
Some 350,000 air-conditioned tents have been set up to house pilgrims, a Saudi official said. More than 5,600 hotels and apartment buildings in Mecca and Medina –- with a capacity to host 2.7 million people –- are dedicated to pilgrims, according to state media.
The pilgrimage this year takes place amid a backdrop of political and sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and conflicts still flare in Yemen, Syria and Libya. Muslim minorities around the world also face increased threats, including in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a sweeping curfew is in effect.