- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Muslims on Haj pilgrimage leave Mecca for
- Date: 5th November 2011
- Summary: VARIOUS OF GRAND MOSQUE
- Embargoed: 20th November 2011 12:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVACXRP6SCX935GO6CBAQZMW2NBW
- Story Text: Millions of Muslim pilgrims converged in Saudi Arabia on the first day of the holy Muslim pilgrimage which falls this year on Friday (November 4).
Many pilgrims visited the holy mosques in Mecca and nearby Medina, where the prophet Muhammad was buried over 1,400 years ago, ahead of the start of the pilgrimage.
On Friday, the first official day of the Haj, all pilgrims are expected to start their journey to Mina -- a small village east of Mecca -- where they will spend the day worshipping before heading to Arafat, a rocky hill nearby.
Pilgrims later travel to an open plain called Muzdalifa, between Arafat and Mina, to collect pebbles which they will throw at pillars representing Satan on the last day of the pilgrimage, celebrated with the Eid al-Adha holiday on Sunday.
This year the pilgrimage follows uprisings across the Arab world and growing tensions between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite power Iran.
Ahmed al Masri, and Egyptian pilgrim, said: "Every Muslim is waiting for this day to get rid of his sins, Allah descends to the lowest heaven and says: Is there some one who seeks forgiveness so I can forgive him? All Muslims await the day of Arafat so that God to forgive our sins."
Mohammad Zain, a pilgrim from Kenya, said: "Of course everybody feels happy. We going for Arafat, we are asking God for our sins to be forgiven and forgive the other Muslims."
An unidentified pilgrim said: "I am very happy that I am going to Arafat mountain, I will pray for everybody."
As one of Islam's five pillars, the Haj is enjoined on all Muslims who are physically able to carry it out.
Two and a half million to three million pilgrims are expected during the Haj.
Over 1.5 million pilgrims have arrived in the Mecca region so far.
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.
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.
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