ISLAMABAD: Three million pilgrims have begun marching to Mina on the first leg of their journey of a lifetime to perform Haj today (Friday).
The government’s agencies have made elaborate arrangements to ensure the smooth flow of pilgrims from Makkah Madinah, Jeddah, Riyadh, Taif and Dammam into the tent city.
The pilgrims will spend the day and night in prayers and then head to the plains of Arafat on Friday morning.
Authorities say close to three million believers have come from abroad to follow the 1,400-year-old tradition of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), alongside pilgrims from Saudi Arabia.
Mount Arafat is where the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) gave his final sermon, after leading his followers on the Haj.
“It is a beautiful feeling,” said Aziza Yousfy, 60, from Algeria, before leaving Makkah. Seeing Mina and Mount Arafat “has always been a dream for me,” she said.
One of the world’s largest annual gatherings and a pillar of the Islamic faith, this year’s Haj comes with authorities striving to protect pilgrims from two deadly viruses, Ebola and the MERS coronavirus.
It also comes against the backdrop of widespread revulsion among Muslims toward Islamic State group jihadists.
Sayed Tajamul Haq, 64, an Indian pilgrim walking with his wife, voiced hope that “God will accept our prayers for forgiveness and mercy”, during an experience he described with a smile as “fantastic.”
Pilgrims will move a few kilometres from Makkah to nearby Mina.
Men wear a seamless two-piece white garment, symbolising a state of purity and emphasizing their unity regardless of social status or nationality.
Women also generally wear white, exposing only their faces and hands. The passage to Mina marks the official start of the Haj on the eighth day of the Muslim calendar month of Zahul Haj. In Mina, they will pray and rest before moving on to Mount Arafat for the climax of the pilgrimage rituals on Friday.