Hajj pilgrims to begin journey of faith

Mecca, Sept 21: Over 1.5 lakh Indians will join hundreds of thousands of Muslims from around the world as they embark on their journey to the Valley of Mina from this holiest Islamic place to mark the beginning of Hajj.

Soon after the sunset today when the day of the Islamic calender turns 'Dhul Hijjah 8', believers will start their journey towards Mina – nearly five kilometres from here - for the world's largest annual gathering.

Many pilgrims will start the journey to Mina late tonight itself to avoid the heavy rush of pilgrims after the 'Fajr' or pre-dawn prayers.

The five-day pilgrimage will culminate with the symbolic stoning of Satan on Saturday. Saudi authorities have made elaborate arrangements for the pilgrims in Mina, where thousands of tents have been set up to host the 'guests of Allah'.

In the first phase, the pilgrims will spend the night in the tent-city of Mina reciting the Holy Quran or praying. King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who is also Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has directed agencies concerned to provide all services and facilities so that pilgrims perform their rituals with ease and comfort.

According to officials here, nearly 1.5 million pilgrims had arrived from various countries till Sunday and many more are expected to join them from neighbouring countries today.

They will be joined by the Saudi nationals also later in the day. About 1.5 lakh Indians are among the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who have converged in the Kingdom for the five-day Hajj. The Saudi authorities have deployed 1,00,000 security personnel for ensuring the safety and well-being of pilgrims.

High winds, 10 days ago, toppled a massive crane that smashed into Mecca's Grand Mosque and killed at least 107 people, including 11 Indians.

Members of an elite counterterrorism unit, traffic police and emergency civil defence personnel are among those deployed to help with crowd control and safety.

They are supported by additional troops from the army and National Guard. The Interior Ministry, which is responsible for security, has installed 5,000 CCTV cameras in this city and Medina. The feed from these cameras is monitored round-the-clock.

"We are active, we are awake," Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Al-Turki said, referring to the security forces' readiness to deal with any eventuality.

The Kingdom's military and police put on a parade in Mecca last week, with security forces jumping through burning hoops and thwarting a mock terrorist attack.

The show – attended by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef - was aimed at deterring any would-be troublemakers. More than 3,000 Civil Defence personnel have been deployed in Mina to oversee the safety and security of the pilgrims against any emergency hazards.


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