Extraordinary photos show millions of joyful Muslims descending on Mecca's Grand Mosque for start of Islam's annual haj pilgrimage
- Saudi authorities warn they will stop any disruptive protests at annual pilgrimage in Mecca over the conflict in Syria
- Grand Mosque teeming with joyful pilgrims at dawn yesterday, wearing simple white folds of cloth prescribed for haj
- Authorities say there have so far been 1.7million arrivals from abroad and about 200,000 from inside Saudi Arabia
- Last year nearly 3million pilgrims performed the haj, with roughly a third from inside the conservative kingdom
- The mountain overlooking Mecca is where Muslims believe Mohammed received his first revelations from God
- The Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once in lifetime
- Thursday marks the most important day, when all pilgrims assemble in the Arafat plain outside Mecca
- Damascus claims Saudi authorities have barred Syrians from travelling to this year's rituals
With the holy city of Mecca lit up spectacularly in the background, hundreds of devout Muslim pilgrims make their way up sacred Noor Mountain ahead of the annual Haj rituals which are set begin later this week.
The mountain, known in Arabic as Jabal-al-noor or the Mountain of Light is the site of Hira Cave which is where Muslims believe Mohammed received his first revelations from God through the angel Gabriel.
Millions of pilgrims are set to descend on Mecca this week to perform the haj, the world's largest annual gathering of any kind which authorities in Saudi Arabia insist will not be affected by instability shaking the region.
Officials say the main events, which begin Wednesday, are expected to attract more than two million devotees from across the world.
Thursday marks the most important day, when all pilgrims assemble in the Arafat plain outside Mecca. The pilgrimage ends after Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which will be celebrated on Friday.
The haj is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once in lifetime.
'It's my first time in Mecca for pilgrimage. I can't wait to pray in Arafat,' said 32-year-old Koara Abdulrahman, a businessman from Burkina Faso.