Muslim pilgrims gather for Hajj

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all corners of the earth have converged on Islam's holiest city as they prepare for the annual pilgrimage.

    Pilgrims have arrived from all over the world

    Amid exceptionally mild weather for the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, t

    he flow of buses and cars bringing in the Muslim faithful was 

    incessant.

    Pilgrims came to the western Saudi

    Arabian city from places as far apart as sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia and

    the United States.

    The human tide flocked to the Grand Mosque to pray or to visit

    the sanctuary known as the haram, as they prepared for the Hajj

    which starts on Friday.

    The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam required of

    able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, if they can

    afford it.

    Cool weather

     

    Makka is the holiest place in the
    world to Muslims

    Their effort is aided by cool weather this year with

    temperatures expected to swing between 14 and 32 degrees Celsius

    on Saturday, the pivotal day of the Hajj.

    This is the day when

    the faithful gather at Mount Arafat before dawn and stay there until

    sunset praying for forgiveness.

    The Prophet Muhammad received the last passage

    of Islam's holy book, the Quran, during his last sermon on the hillock

    almost 14 centuries ago.

    Makka and the nearby holy city of Madina were hit with

    torrential rains last week causing floods.

    The cold weather has

    caught some of the pilgrims coming from warm countries by surprise,

    with health experts blaming some of the recent deaths on that.

    Pilgrim deaths 

    At least 113 pilgrims, mostly from southeast Asia, have died,

    many of them from exhaustion, chronic illnesses or road accidents,

    the Saudi Gazette reported on Sunday.

    Many pilgrims were seen wearing masks as the bird flu grips Asia

    and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

    appears to be making a comeback in Hong Kong.

    "I cover my nose just as a precaution," said an Indonesian

    pilgrim.

    Security will be tighter than usual
    during the Hajj this year

    Another pilgrim from Lebanon said the mask was a way "to protect

    against the risks of coming in contact with people from different

    parts of the world who may be ill".

    Security concern 

    Twenty hospitals, 188 health centres and 155 ambulances have

    been dedicated to serve the estimated two million faithful

    converging on Makka for the annual rituals.

    More than 100 medical specialists and nurses from Britain, the

    United States and Malaysia have been brought in to work in

    emergency, intensive care and anaesthetic units bolstering 9500

    local doctors, nurses and administrators.

    The Hajj Ministry is focusing on preventive measures and

    checking pilgrims as they arrive at 24 entry points into Saudi

    Arabia.

    Security is another concern of Saudi authorities who have

    stepped up the police presence in the holy city, which was the scene of

    deadly clashes last June between security forces and suspected

    Islamist dissidents.

    SOURCE: AFP


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