More than 2.5 million Muslims will begin on Friday the annual hajj pilgrimage in the Islamic holy city of Mecca.
Crowds of worshippers have already begun to gather in Mecca, ahead of the hajj.
“More than 1.8 million visitors had arrived by midday local time Tuesday,” authorities said.
Crowds of faithful from across the world to partake in religious rites that have remained unchanged since Islam was founded 14 centuries ago.
Worshippers roam the esplanade or pray in the Great Mosque of Mecca in stifling heat as they wait for the beginning of the hajj.
Many pilgrims arrive weeks before and linger in the city, even though the hajj lasts only five days.
However, the total number of arrivals is limited, as each Muslim country receives a pilgrim quota.
Religious tourism brings in revenues worth billions of dollars.
What is the difference between Hajj and Umrah?
Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey and can support their family during their absence.
The rites of Hajj are performed over five, and is one of the five pillars of Islam, alongside Shahadah, Salah, Zakat, and Sawm.
The Hajj is the second-largest annual gathering of Muslims in the world, after the Arba’een Pilgrimage in Karbala, Iraq. The state of being physically and financially capable of performing the Hajj is called istita’ah, and a Muslim who fulfils this condition is called a mustati. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Allah).
The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th (or in some cases 13th) of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar and the Islamic year is about eleven days shorter than the Gregorian year, the Gregorian date of Hajj changes from year to year. Ihram is the name given to the special spiritual state in which pilgrims wear two white sheets of seamless cloth and abstain from certain actions.
Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham. During Hajj, pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba (the cube-shaped building and the direction of prayer for the Muslims), trots (walks briskly) back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah seven times, then drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and performs symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at three pillars. After the sacrifice of their animal, the Pilgrims then are required to shave their head. Then they celebrate the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha.
Pilgrims can also go to Mecca to perform the rituals at other times of the year. This is sometimes called the “lesser pilgrimage”, or ‘Umrah‘.
However, even if they choose to perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetime if they have the means to do so because Umrah is not a substitute for Hajj.