Muslims flock to hajj despite deadly crane collapse

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Mecca, Sep 18: Pilgrims from around the world have begun massing in Saudi Arabia for the hajj, one of the biggest gatherings on the planet, undeterred by a crane collapse that killed 108 people, including 11 Indians, at Islam's holiest site.

More than 1.2 million faithful have already arrived for the annual hajj, which begins on Tuesday against a backdrop of increased jihadi violence, a surge of the deadly MERS virus and with the kingdom at war in Yemen.

Haj

From all races and ages, they flocked into the Grand Mosque, where they prayed -- some silently in tears and others loudly in groups carrying their countries' flags.

The hajj is among the five pillars of Islam and every capable Muslim must perform the pilgrimage at least once. Previously marred by stampedes and fires that killed hundreds, it had been largely incident-free for the past decade after safety improvements.

But on September 11, during severe winds, a construction crane toppled into a courtyard of the Grand Mosque. Saudis, Iranians, Nigerians, Malaysians, Indonesians and Indians were among the dead.

About 400 more people were injured, but it has not stopped pilgrims carrying out their rituals.

"Do you see the number of people here? Do you think they are fearful? It is quite the opposite. People here have faith in God and perceive those that died as martyrs," said Amin al-Rahman of Bangladesh.

The crane was one of several on a multi-billion-dollar expansion to accommodate increasing numbers of faithful. With another million pilgrims expected for the hajj, King Salman acted swiftly to sanction the developer, Saudi Binladin Group.

Samira Abdulwahab, a pilgrim from Sudan who had just finished circling the cube-shaped Kaaba, which all Muslims face to pray, called the Grand Mosque "the safest place in the world".

The Kaaba is now barely visible amid the surrounding construction works. Tawaf, or circumambulating the Kaaba, is a ritual of the pilgrimage performed by the white-clad pilgrims who come from all over the world. They are following the 1,400-year-old tradition of Islam's Prophet Mohammed.

AFP

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