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Hajj Begins as 1.5 Million Muslims Gather in Saudi Arabia Amid Gaza Conflict

by Mohammad Naseemaa
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This year Hajj pilgrimage began on Friday, with millions of Muslims arriving in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. They started by circling the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque before moving to the desert tent camp. Over 1.5 million pilgrims are already there, with the number expected to exceed 2 million. Hajj lasts five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and is a key part of Islam.

This year’s Hajj takes place during the Gaza conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants. Due to the closure of the Rafah crossing in May, Palestinians from Gaza couldn’t attend. However, 4,200 pilgrims from the West Bank and 1,000 family members of Palestinians killed or injured in Gaza, invited by Saudi King Salman, made the journey.

For the first time in over a decade, Syrian pilgrims flew directly from Damascus to Mecca, indicating improved relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria. Hajj is a spiritual journey believed to cleanse sins and bring Muslims closer to God. Many save for years to afford the trip.

Saudi authorities have implemented strict security measures, including checkpoints, to ensure only those with Hajj permits can access the holy sites. Many violators have been arrested and face expulsion or jail.

On Friday, pilgrims moved to Mina, marking the official start of Hajj. They will spend Saturday at Mount Arafat, where Prophet Muhammad delivered his Farewell Sermon, and then travel to Muzdalifa to collect pebbles for the symbolic stoning of the devil in Mina.

The pilgrimage ends with three days in Mina during Eid al-Adha, a festival where Muslims slaughter livestock and share the meat with the poor. The final ritual is the Farewell Tawaf, a last circumambulation of the Kaaba.

After three years of pandemic restrictions, Hajj has returned to full scale. Last year saw over 1.8 million pilgrims, nearing the 2019 peak of 2.4 million. Despite the heat, with temperatures possibly reaching 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), pilgrims are advised to take precautions.

Hajj remains a deeply moving event, bringing together Muslims from around the world for a profound spiritual journey.

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