Over 2 million Muslims kick off annual hajj pilgrimage

Saudi blocking hajj access to Qatar citizens: Official

The Hajj, which is expected to draw more than two million pilgrims this year, represents a key rite of passage for Muslims and a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities - as these stunning images show.

An official at Saudi Arabia's Hajj ministry said a group of Qataris had arrived for the pilgrimage which runs from Sunday to August 24, but he did not say how many there were or whether they had travelled directly from Qatar.

Hajj, which means pilgrimage in Arabic, is a huge and significant event for Muslims across the world.

Some pilgrims pushed their elderly relatives on wheelchairs, while others stopped to call family members back home on video chat or buy ice cream as temperatures soared above 40 degrees Celsius. "But another dimension to it is that majority of those affected are passengers of the travel agencies and, as you know, NAHCON will consider all pilgrims from states first as a matter of priority".

For men, this is a seamless tunic worn over baggy trousers; for women, a loose dress with only the face and hands exposed.

The hajj ends with Eid al-Adha, a three-day feast which starts with the "stoning of the devil". The pilgrims then distribute the meat of the slaughtered animal to the poor and the needy.

The ritual symbolizes Hazrat Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son, Hazrat Ismail, on the order of Allah.

This year, the annual pilgrimage has become increasingly hi-tech with apps to help the faithful navigate Islam s holiest sites.

That spring, known as the sacred well of Zamzam, is believed to possess healing powers, and pilgrims often return from the hajj with bottles of its water as gifts.

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Muslim pilgrims walk past an information of the poster of the translation bureau in the Saudi holy city of Makkah.

Hajj 2018: Religious significance and main rituals During the five days of Hajj, the devotees perform a series of rituals.

Riyadh has banned all flights to and from Doha and has imposed a blockade on Qatar.

Saudi Arabia has said Qatari pilgrims can arrive on any airline other than Qatar Airways. Tehran had temporarily suspended sending its citizens to hajj following a 2015 stampede that left around 2,300 pilgrims dead, including hundreds of Iranians.

"I hope this year would be a good one for the Islamic nations", said Ahmad Mohammad, an Egyptian pilgrim.

Saudi Arabia has drawn harsh criticism for a crackdown on political dissent since the appointment past year of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose modernisation campaign has grabbed headlines around the world.

But the kingdom has also tightened its grip on dissent, with around a dozen women's rights campaigners arrested in recent weeks.

Some have since been released.

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