- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Traffic jams as Haj pilgrims converge on Mina
- Date: 24th October 2012
- Summary: HAJ PILGRIMS SINGING IN BUS BUS DRIVER SMILING AS HE DRIVES
- Embargoed: 8th November 2012 12:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVABRYNIA8N6YRU4PO7GUGJTS0OC
- Story Text: Traffic jams formed on the road from Mecca to Mina on Wednesday (October 24), the first day of this year's haj as the Muslim faithful packed vehicles heading for the small village where they will spend the first night of the annual pilgrimage.
The Muslim pilgrims were undertaking the journey in accordance with traditions of the first day of the haj.
In Mina, they accommodated in enormous tents, where they pray, read the Koran and rest ahead of their religious duties on the second day of the pilgrimage.
The haj is an annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Mecca with the intention of performing religious rites as taught by the Prophet Mohammad to his followers 14 centuries ago.
It is is mandatory once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it and is the fifth pillar of Islam and the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity.
"It's amazing, man, the best day of my life, actually, the best day of my life, for the sake of Allah, you know, the haj is one of the most important things you need to do in your life, you know," Omar Hassunah, a U.S. citizen of Jordanian origin, said.
Abdullah Mohammad Kamaledeen from Nigeria expressed his happiness at taking part in the pilgrimage.
"Going for the haj is the last pillar of Islam. So me be part the people who came to do the last (indistinct) of Islam, I mean the last pillar of Islam for this 2012. So I am very, very grateful."
The annual haj begins in the 12th month of the Islamic year, which is lunar, not solar.
Some 1.7 million foreign pilgrims have so far arrived in Saudi Arabia.
Most pilgrims are from Asia, especially Indonesia which has the highest haj quota.
The quota system was introduced in 1987 following an agreement by all member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to limit the number allowed by each country to 0.1 percent of its population.
Stampedes, tent fires and other accidents have caused hundreds of deaths in the past 30 years, forcing the government to build new infrastructure.
In 2011, Saudi Arabia began the biggest expansion yet of the Grand Mosque, to increase its capacity to 2 million. A new railway will link the holy sites around Mecca.
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