Muslims gather in Mecca ahead of Haj

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Riyadh, Aug 17 (IANS) Thousands of Muslims from around the world gathered on Friday in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage.

Pilgrims were praying around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s most sacred site, where Muslims go each year to perform the Haj, reports Efe news.

Saudi Arabian authorities announced earlier that more than 1.6 million people had arrived in the holy city of Mecca for this year’s Haj, which starts on Sunday.

Minister of Haj and Umrah Mohamed Benten said on Thursday that Qatari pilgrims had reached the kingdom through Kuwait, stressing Qataris were not prevented from performing Haj.

Riyadh has cut all economic and transport links with its smaller neighbour Qatar in June last year over allegations of funding terrorism.

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Muslims are expected to perform the Haj, one of Islam’s five pillars, at least once in their lifetime, provided they are fit enough and have the financial means to do so.

–IANS

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