- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Pilgrims pray in Mecca ahead of Haj
- Date: 22nd October 2012
- Summary: MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA (OCTOBER 22, 2012 (REUTERS) (**GOOD SHOTS*) (NIGHT SCENES) VARIOUS OF TOP SHOTS OF THE GRAND MOSQUE IN MECCA FULL WITH PILGRIMS WAITING FOR EVENING PRAYERS VARIOUS OF MECCA CLOCK MORE OF PILGRIMS ARRIVING AT THE GRAND MOSQUE VARIOUS OF PILGRIMS PRAYING INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE GRAND MOSQUE
- Embargoed: 6th November 2012 12:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA5A2PBVCIXKL2LVU5Z0B0JJGBE
- Story Text: Pilgrims arrive in Mecca for haj amid regional turmoil.
Millions of pilgrims arrive this week in Mecca for Islam's annual haj pilgrimage, which starts on Wednesday (October 24), with Saudi authorities warning they will stop any disruptive protests over the conflict in Syria.
The Grand Mosque, the focal point of the Islamic faith, was already teeming with joyful pilgrims at dawn on Monday (October 22), wearing the simple white folds of cloth prescribed for haj, many of them having slept on the white marble paving outside.
Haj must be performed at least once in their lifetime by all Muslims capable of making the expensive, difficult journey, a duty that applies equally to Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims at a time of tension between Islam's main sects.
Saudi leaders have emphasised it is a strictly religious occasion and they are prepared to deal with any troublemaking.
"If anything happens it will be brought under control," Interior Minister Prince Ahmed said on Saturday (October 20) after attending a Mecca march-past where troops paraded water cannon, teargas launchers and even truck-mounted machine guns.
Authorities are keenly aware of past episodes of violence at haj, such as in 1979, when attackers seized the Grand Mosque, beginning a two-week siege that left hundreds dead.
Despite Saudi Arabia, which is mostly Sunni, locking horns with regional rival Iran, which is mostly Shi'ite, over the conflict in Syria and other disputes, the minister played down the risks of politically motivated disruption.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has backed rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran, at a time of already tense relations between Riyadh and Tehran.
Assad and Iranian leaders have both accused Turkey and Gulf Arab countries of arming the rebels, while Riyadh has accused Tehran of stirring unrest in Bahrain and instigating protests among Shi'ite Muslims in Saudi Arabia.
Iran has denied those charges and both sides have said they are keen to avoid trouble during haj, mindful of 1987 clashes between Iranian pilgrims and Saudi security forces that led to hundreds of deaths.
In the years since, Saudi authorities have tolerated small protests by Iranians in their part of the massive camp where most pilgrims stay. Prince Ahmed said Tehran had assured Riyadh that Iranian pilgrims would cause no disruption this year.
However, Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi last week called on Muslims to ostracise Iran and Russia during haj over their backing of Assad, stoking an already tense atmosphere.
In his Friday sermon the imam of Mecca's Grand Mosque, Saleh bin Abdullah Hamid, also railed against the violence in Syria, calling on God to "be against the forces of oppressors" there.
Last year nearly 3 million pilgrims performed the haj, with roughly a third from inside the conservative kingdom. The Saudi authorities said there have so far been 1.7 million arrivals from abroad and about 200,000 from inside Saudi Arabia.
All Muslims must face towards the Kaaba, the huge black cube at the centre of the Grand Mosque, five times a day for prayer, making a visit to the sanctuary a powerful experience. Pilgrims must circle it seven times when they arrive in Mecca.
Wednesday is the first official day of the pilgrimage, with Muslims following a set form of rites laid out by the Prophet and culminating on Friday with the Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha, a holiday across the Islamic world.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
- Copyright Notice: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Open For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None