Pilgrims have been descending in congregates on Mecca for the hajj, the world’s largest annual gathering which Saudi Arabia insists will not be affected by instability in the region.
Walking in groups, mostly led by guides with their countries’ flags printed on their garments, faithful men and women have poured into Mecca to perform the umrah, ahead of the major hajj rituals.
Officials say the main events, which begin on Wednesday, are expected to attract more than two million devotees from across the world.
On Thursday marks the most important day, when all pilgrims assemble in the Arafat plain outside Mecca.
The pilgrimage ends after Eid al-Adha, which will be celebrated on Friday. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once in lifetime.
“It’s my first time in Mecca for pilgrimage. I can’t wait to pray in Arafat,” said 32-year-old Koara Abdulrahman, a businessman from Burkina Faso.
Inside the Grand Mosque, scores of pilgrims continually circumambulators the Kaaba in which direction Muslims worldwide pray with many pushing their way through the crowds to kiss the walls of the structure that was first built by Abraham
Others pray or recite verses of the holy book Koran, while many sleep in corners. “Right now, I’ve got all the good feelings you can think of,” said an Iranian pilgrim, her voice quivering and tears welling up in her eyes.
Authorities said more than 1.6 million foreign pilgrims have already arrived and the numbers are set to grow by Wednesday. Around 750,000 domestic pilgrims are also expected to take part in the rituals.