- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Sea of worshippers pray at Mecca's Grand Mosque ahead of haj
- Date: 1st November 2011
- Summary: MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA (OCTOBER 31, 2011) (REUTERS) SEA OF PILGRIMS IN MECCA'S GRAND MOSQUE, AUDIO OF CALL FOR PRAYERS PILGRIMS PRAYING AT THE KAABA, THE MOST SACRED SITE OF ISLAM TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PILGRIMS HOLDING PRAYERS AT GRAND MOSQUE PILGRIMS PRAYING AROUND DOMES VARIOUS OF MASSES OF PILGRIMS HOLDING PRAYERS AROUND THE KAABA VARIOUS OF PRAYERS IN THE GRAND MOSQUE NEAR THE DOMES AND AROUND THE KAABA PILGRIMS PRAYING IN THE GRAND MOSQUE'S YARD VARIOUS OVERHEAD VIEWS OF THE GRAND MOSQUE DURING PRAYERS VARIOUS OF PILGRIMS CIRCUMABULATE KAABA FOLLOWING PRAYERS
- Embargoed: 16th November 2011 12:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVAF41PHOUJL25978CDXD8HXQDVO
- Story Text: Tens of thousands of worshippers held night prayers in Mecca as millions of Muslims started arriving in Saudi Arabia before the annual haj pilgrimage which starts on Friday (November 4).
The pilgrims held prayers and circumabulate the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
As one of Islam's five pillars, the haj is enjoined on all Muslims who are physically able to carry it out, but this year the pilgrimage follows uprisings across the Arab world and growing tensions between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite power Iran.
Home to Islam's holiest sites, Saudi Arabia regards itself as the guardian of Islam and assumes the responsibility of maintaining a peaceful haj season when Muslims from various sects gather at the same place and time.
Although haj starts on the eighth day of the lunar month of Dhul Hijja, which falls this year on Nov. 4, most pilgrims come earlier to visit the holy mosques in Mecca and nearby Medina, where the prophet Muhammad was buried over 1,400 years ago.
Over 1.5 million pilgrims have arrived in the Mecca region so far and Saudi authorities have spent freely to avoid any repeat of the deadly incidents which marred haj seasons in the past such as fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and stampedes.
The Grand Mosque is the main attraction for over 6 million pilgrims who enter Mecca throughout the year, of which 2.5 million-3 million pilgrims are expected during the haj.
An expansion project will raise the mosque's capacity to allow it to hold 2 million pilgrims and install pedestrian bridges.
The area of Mecca around the Grand Mosque is also being transformed, as high-rise buildings are put up to cater for the large influx of visitors.
This month, the pilgrims will have full access to a 1.8 billion U.S. dollar railway, which was launched at only 30 percent of its capacity last year, to ease pilgrim transport between holy sites around Mecca.
Among the rites they must perform during the three-day pilgrimage, hajis must walk seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building at the centre of the Grand Mosque, pray at nearby Mount Arafat and ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three walls.
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