Two million Muslims begin Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca

A 104-year-old woman Hajj pilgrim from Indonesia is now the guest of Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud along with two of her neighbours.

But, the NAHCON boss said Nigerians who want to renew their pilgrimage henceforth are expected to pay additional 2,000 riyals - a levy he said was imposed by the Saudi Arabia authorities.

No fewer than 1.705 million pilgrims, which include over 91,000 Nigerians, have arrived the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform this year's Hajj, according to Statistics released by the Directorate General of Passports. Saudi Arabia and Iran severed ties in 2016, and as a result, no Iranians were at the pilgrimage a year ago. The rituals of the Hajj are prescribed in sequence, the time to perform each act, and the location of it, which adds to the complexity of managing movement of such a large number of people in a very short period of time.

This year's pilgrimage comes amid a diplomatic crisis between a Saudi-led bloc of Arab countries and Qatar, accused of supporting extremist groups and being too close to Riyadh's arch-rival Teheran.

Iranians are back after not attending in 2016 following a deadly Makkah stampede the previous year that killed almost 2,300 pilgrims.

"We want to perform our Hajj pilgrimage but in that, we can use the journey to raise awareness".

In 1990, 1426 pilgrims died in a stampede inside a tunnel after its ventilation system broke down.

On the esplanade of the Grand Mosque, Saudi authorities had placed misting fans to take the edge off the intense heat.

Sitting in the shade of trees or reinforced concrete bridges, the faithful waited patiently for the next call to prayer.

Bangladeshi pilgrim Mohammad Nasser, 53, said the Grand Mosque housing the Kaaba is congested and busy, but believes overall the Saudi government has managed the crowds well so far. They were praying in Haram Sharif (Grand Mosque) reciting verses of Holy Quran and seeking Allah's mercy and His huge bounties.

During the "stoning of the devil", pilgrims lob rocks at three pillars, known as the "Jamarat", symbolizing the rejection of the devil's temptation.

This is also the most unsafe part of the pilgrimage.

Gen. Mansour al-Turki told reporters in a news conference that a more than 100,000-strong security force is on the ground in and around Mecca to secure the hajj and assist pilgrims.

  • Jon Douglas