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Wednesday, October 24, 2012







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
By Daily Mail Reporter
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These breathtaking pictures show how millions of pilgrims are arriving in Mecca for Islam's annual haj pilgrimage which starts tomorrow, as Saudi authorities warned they will stop any disruptive protests over the conflict in Syria.

The Grand Mosque, the focal point of the Islamic faith, was already teeming with joyful pilgrims at dawn yesterday, wearing the simple white folds of cloth prescribed for haj, many of them having slept on the white marble paving outside.

‘I feel proud to be here because it's a visual message that Muslims are united. People speaking in all kind of languages pray to the one God,’ said Fahmi Mohammed al-Nemr, 52, from Egypt.


Haj must be performed at least once in their lifetime by all Muslims capable of making the expensive, difficult journey, a duty that applies equally to Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims at a time of tension between Islam's main sects.

Saudi leaders have emphasised it is a strictly religious occasion and they are prepared to deal with any troublemaking.
‘If anything happens it will be brought under control,’ Interior Minister Prince Ahmed said on Saturday after attending a Mecca march-past where troops paraded water cannon, teargas launchers and even truck-mounted machine guns.

Authorities are keenly aware of past episodes of violence at haj, such as in 1979, when attackers seized the Grand Mosque, beginning a two-week siege that left hundreds dead. 

Despite Saudi Arabia, which is mostly Sunni, locking horns with regional rival Iran, which is mostly Shi'ite, over the conflict in Syria and other disputes, the minister played down the risks of politically motivated disruption.

‘I don't think there will be any repercussion on the security of the pilgrimage as a result of what is unfortunately happening in Syria and elsewhere,’ Prince Ahmed said. 

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has backed rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran, at a time of already tense relations between Riyadh and Tehran.

Assad and Iranian leaders have both accused Turkey and Gulf Arab countries of arming the rebels, while Riyadh has accused Tehran of stirring unrest in Bahrain and instigating protests among Shi'ite Muslims in Saudi Arabia.

Iran has denied those charges and both sides have said they are keen to avoid trouble during haj, mindful of 1987 clashes between Iranian pilgrims and Saudi security forces that led to hundreds of deaths.

In the years since, Saudi authorities have tolerated small protests by Iranians in their part of the massive camp where most pilgrims stay. Prince Ahmed said Tehran had assured Riyadh that Iranian pilgrims would cause no disruption this year.


However, Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi last week called on Muslims to ostracise Iran and Russia during haj over their backing of Assad, stoking an already tense atmosphere.

In his Friday sermon the imam of Mecca's Grand Mosque, Saleh bin Abdullah Hamid, also railed against the violence in Syria, calling on God to ‘be against the forces of oppressors’ there.

Pilgrims said they were praying for an end to the fighting.

‘I pray for the Syrian Muslims to be saved from the oppression they are being subjected to,’ said Abdullah Abdulrahman Mohammed, 69, from Iraqi Kurdistan, a father of 12 who had just performed Friday prayers.

Last year nearly 3million pilgrims performed the haj, with roughly a third from inside the conservative kingdom. The Saudi authorities said there have so far been 1.7million arrivals from abroad and about 200,000 from inside Saudi Arabia.

Mecca's merchants, famed across the Arab world, are already doing a thriving trade as pilgrims stock up on souvenirs such as prayer beads and mats, Korans, dates, gold and zamzam water, pumped from a holy well.


‘The first time I saw the Kaaba I cried with joy. I prayed for myself and all Muslims,’ said Nafisa Rangrez, 36, from Gujarat in India, who had waited five years for a haj visa.

All Muslims must face towards the Kaaba, the huge black cube at the centre of the Grand Mosque, five times a day for prayer, making a visit to the sanctuary a powerful experience. Pilgrims must circle it seven times when they arrive in Mecca.

Tomorrow is the first official day of the pilgrimage, with Muslims following a set form of rites laid out by the Prophet and culminating on Friday with the Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha, a holiday across the Islamic world. 

‘I would love to live here for the rest of my life. There's no such place in the entire world. This is a blessed country,’ said Ziad Adam, 23, a theology student from Kenya. 

Saudi Arabia's king is formally titled Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the ruling family has long based its claims to reign on its guardianship of Islam's birthplace.

Over the past decade it has spent billions of dollars expanding the Grand Mosque and building new infrastructure to avert the stampedes and tent fires that marred past pilgrimages with hundreds of deaths. The last deadly stampede was in 2006, when 360 people were crushed to death.



Muslim pilgrims leave the Grand Mosque after performing the evening prayers, in the holy city of Mecca, on October 22, 2012
TOPSHOTS Muslim pilgrims perform their evening prayers, in Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, on October 22, 2012.
Extraordinary scenes: Muslim pilgrims leave the Grand Mosque (left) after performing the evening prayers (right), in the holy city of Mecca on Monday

Muslim pilgrims pray outside the Grand mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012.
epa03442196 Muslim pilgrims leave the holy Kaaba at the center of the Haram Sharif Great Mosque
Together as one: The extraordinary gathering was said by some of the faith to be a visual message that Muslims are united

Big event: Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba as they pray inside and outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The annual pilgrimage draws three million visitors each year
Big event: Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba as they pray inside and outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The annual pilgrimage draws three million visitors each year

Huge gathering: Muslim pilgrims perform their evening prayers in the Grand Mosque on Monday. The annual haj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam
Huge gathering: Muslim pilgrims perform their evening prayers in the Grand Mosque on Monday. The annual haj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam

Policing: Saudi authorities warned they will stop any disruptive protests over the conflict in Syria
Policing: Saudi authorities warned they will stop any disruptive protests over the conflict in Syria

Pigrimage: The Grand Mosque, the focal point of the Islamic faith, was already teeming with joyful pilgrims at dawn on Monday, wearing the simple white folds of cloth prescribed for haj
Pigrimage: The Grand Mosque, the focal point of the Islamic faith, was already teeming with joyful pilgrims at dawn on Monday, wearing the simple white folds of cloth prescribed for haj
Observance: Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca on Monday
Observance: Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca on Monday

Father and daughter: A Muslim pilgrim leaves the Grand Mosque with his child after performing the evening prayers, in the holy city of Mecca on Monday
Father and daughter: A Muslim pilgrim leaves the Grand Mosque with his child after performing the evening prayers, in the holy city of Mecca on Monday

All ages: Muslim pilgrims attend to perform their evening prayers in the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca on Monday
All ages: Muslim pilgrims attend to perform their evening prayers in the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca on Monday

Afterwards: Muslim pilgrims leave the Grand Mosque after performing their evening prayers in the holy city of Mecca on Monday
Afterwards: Muslim pilgrims leave the Grand Mosque after performing their evening prayers in the holy city of Mecca on Monday

All together: Haj must be performed at least once in their lifetime by all Muslims capable of making the expensive, difficult journey
All together: Haj must be performed at least once in their lifetime by all Muslims capable of making the expensive, difficult journey
Maintaining safety: Saudi leaders have emphasised it is a strictly religious occasion and they are prepared to deal with any troublemaking
Maintaining safety: Saudi leaders have emphasised it is a strictly religious occasion and they are prepared to deal with any troublemaking

Beginning: Wednesday is the first official day of the pilgrimage, with Muslims following a set form of rites laid out by the Prophet, and it culminates on Friday
Beginning: Wednesday is the first official day of the pilgrimage, with Muslims following a set form of rites laid out by the Prophet, and it culminates on Friday

Amazing numbers: The Saudi authorities said there have so far been 1.7 million arrivals from abroad and about 200,000 from inside Saudi Arabia
Amazing numbers: The Saudi authorities said there have so far been 1.7 million arrivals from abroad and about 200,000 from inside Saudi Arabia

Participant: Muslim pilgrims leave the Grand Mosque after the noon prayer in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Monday
Participant: Muslim pilgrims leave the Grand Mosque after the noon prayer in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Monday

Avoidance of trouble: Authorities are keenly aware of past episodes of violence at haj, such as in 1979, when attackers seized the Grand Mosque
Avoidance of trouble: Authorities are keenly aware of past episodes of violence at haj, such as in 1979, when attackers seized the Grand Mosque

Seeking illumination: Stunning night-time shots of Muslim pilgrims at the top of Noor Mountain
  • 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.
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A devotee sits atop Mount Noor looking over the Hera cave where Muslims believe Prophet Mohammad received the first words of the Koran through Gabriel, during the annual haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca
Holy site: A devotee sits atop Mount Noor looking over the Hira cave where Muslims believe Prophet Mohammad received the first words of the Koran in the city of Mecca
A stunning view of the Grand Mosque is seen from the top of Noor Mountain, around two million Muslim are expected to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca this year
A stunning view of the Grand Mosque captured from the top of Noor Mountain. Over two million Muslims are expected to make the pilgrimage to Mecca this year
Beacon: The clock tower of the Grand Mosque looms above above the city of Mecca in this stunning view from the top of Noor Mountain
Beacon: The clock tower of the Grand Mosque looms above above the city of Mecca in this stunning view from the top of Noor Mountain
Top of the world: Officials say the main events, which begin on Wednesday, are expected to attract more than two million devotees
Top of the world: Officials say the main events, which begin on Wednesday, are expected to attract more than two million devotees
Walking in groups, mostly led by guides with their countries' flags printed on their garments, faithful men and women have poured into Mecca to perform the minor pilgrimage, or umrah, ahead of the major haj rituals.
 

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.
Devout: Muslim pilgrims pray at the top of Mount Noor. Around two million are expected to perform the ritual which every able-bodied Muslim is required to do once in a lifetime
Devout: Muslim pilgrims pray at the top of Mount Noor. Around two million are expected to perform the ritual which every able-bodied Muslim is required to do once in a lifetime
A Muslim pilgrim gestures at the top of Mount Noor. Saudi Arabian authorities said more than 1.6 million foreign pilgrims have already arrived and the numbers are set to grow
Prayer: A Muslim pilgrim gestures at the top of Mount Noor. Saudi Arabian authorities said more than 1.6 million foreign pilgrims have already arrived and the numbers are set to grow
Ascent: Muslim pilgrims arrive at the Hera cave near the top of Noor mountain, known in Arabic as Jabal-al-noor
Ascent: Muslim pilgrims arrive at the Hira cave near the top of Noor mountain, known in Arabic as Jabal-al-noor

Devotion: Muslim pilgrims pray at the top of Noor Mountain, near the entrance to Hera cave on the outskirts of Mecca
Devotion: Muslim pilgrims pray at the top of Noor Mountain, near the entrance to Hira cave on the outskirts of Mecca

Authorities said more than 1.6 million foreign pilgrims have already arrived and the numbers are set to grow by Wednesday. Around 750,000 domestic pilgrims are also expected to take part in the rituals
Authorities said more than 1.6 million foreign pilgrims have already arrived and the numbers are set to grow by Wednesday. Around 750,000 domestic pilgrims are also expected to take part in the rituals

Inside the Grand Mosque, scores of pilgrims continually circumambulate the cube-shaped Kaaba -- in which direction Muslims worldwide pray -- with many pushing their way through the crowds to kiss the walls of the structure that was first built by Abraham, according to the Islamic faith.

Others pray or recite verses of the holy book Koran, while many sleep in corners.

'Right now, I've got all the good feelings you can think of,' said an Iranian pilgrim, her voice quivering and tears welling up in her eyes.
Authorities said more than 1.6 million foreign pilgrims have already arrived and the numbers are set to grow by Wednesday. Around 750,000 domestic pilgrims are also expected to take part in the rituals.

Despite several checkpoints on the roads leading to Mecca to prevent illegal pilgrims, huge numbers of unauthorised devotees also join the hajj every year.

A bulk of pilgrims are from Asia, mostly from Indonesia which has the highest hajj quota.

It was unclear how many Syrians, whose country is being rocked by a civil war that began with a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime 19 months ago, will make the journey.

Damascus claimed in September that Saudi authorities have barred Syrians from travelling to this year's haj after the two sides failed 'to reach consensus.'
Women Muslim pilgrims pray near the Hera cave on Mount Noor where Muslims believe Prophet Mohammad received the first words of the Koran through Gabriel
Women  pilgrims pray near Hira cave on Mount Noor where Muslims believe Prophet Mohammad received the first words of the Koran through the angel Gabriel
Scramble: A Muslim pilgrim makes his way out of the Hera cave on Mount Noor. The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once in lifetime
Scramble: A Muslim pilgrim makes his way out of the Hira cave on Mount Noor. The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once in lifetime
Muslim pilgrims walks down Jabal al-Noor or 'Mountain of Light' which overlooks the holy city of Mecca
Muslim pilgrims stand at the entrance of Heraa at the top of Jabal-al-noor
Steps: Muslim pilgrims walks down Jabal al-Noor or 'Mountain of Light' (left) while devotees gather at the entrance of Hira Cave near the top of the mountain

But on Saturday Saudi Interior Minister Prince Ahmad bin Abdul Aziz insisted that pilgrims from Syria are not being barred, except those who sent in their applications too late.

The Saudi envoy to Lebanon said last week that the kingdom will also grant visas to Syrians in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, where thousands of refugees who have fled the violence are being accommodated.

Prince Ahmad also warned that Riyadh will not allow the haj to be 'politicised' and told reporters the kingdom was not worried that trouble in Syria and other Arab countries could affect the hajj or that pilgrims from its regional arch-foe Iran would cause any disturbance.

'I don't expect pilgrims or the pilgrimage to be affected by what is taking place elsewhere, whether Syria or any other place,' he said.
'We don't expect any' unrest to be caused by Iranians, he added.

Iranian pilgrims annually stage a 'repudiation of polytheists' rally -- a ritual promoted by the late Islamic republic's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to denounce the West and Israel.
In 1987, police attempts to stifle the anti-US and anti-Israeli demonstration sparked clashes in which 402 people died, including 275 Iranians.

Iranian pilgrims have since held their rallies in tents without provoking clashes with security forces in the Sunni-dominated kingdom. Journey: A devout Muslim pilgrim makes his way along the rocky path towards Hera cave four days before the Hajj 2012 pilgrimage Trek: A devout Muslim pilgrim makes his way along the rocky path close to the top of Noor Mountain in Saudi Arabia
Journey of a lifetime: The bulk of the pilgrims are from Asia, with the highest quota coming from Indonesia
Journey of a lifetime: The bulk of the pilgrims are from Asia, with the highest quota coming from Indonesia
A Muslim pilgrim prays at the top of Noor Mountain, near where the Hiraa cave is located on the outskirts of Mecca
A Muslim pilgrim prays near rocks at the top of Noor Mountain, close to the entrance of Hira cave
A woman offer her prayers with the Grand Mosque in the background. Huge numbers of unauthorised devotees also join the haj every year
A woman offer her prayers with the Grand Mosque in the background. Huge numbers of unauthorised devotees also join the haj every year
Morning worship: Pilgrims climb the steps up Mount Noor or the 'Mountain of Light' days before the start of Haj
Morning worship: Pilgrims climb the steps up Mount Noor or the 'Mountain of Light' days before the start of Haj
Faithful: Over two million Muslims from around the world are expected to perform the upcoming Haj or pilgrimage
Faithful: Over two million Muslims from around the world are expected to perform the upcoming Haj or pilgrimage this year

'The Iranians have assured us that they are as concerned about the comfort of pilgrims as we are," Prince Ahmad told a news conference that followed a military parade by security forces and civil defence.

Despite marred by deadly incidents in the past such as floodings, stampedes, and fires, hajj has become nearly incident-free over the past few years -- thanks to the multi-billion projects being implemented every year.

This year alone, the kingdom spent more than 1.1 billion riyals ($293.3 million) on development projects in the holy sites of Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah, all outside Mecca.

Saudi authorities have also taken measures to deal with any epidemics that may break out during the hajj, and have downplayed fears over the spread of a mystery illness from the same family as the deadly SARS virus.

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