Around two million Muslims from around the world on Friday began heading to a holy site in Saudi Arabia, marking the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, Islam’s largest gathering.
The pilgrims, including 1.8 million from outside the monarchy, were being transported by bus to the desert valley of Mina, around seven kilometres from the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca.
The pilgrims will stay overnight in Mina, a large tent city that can accommodate 2.6 million pilgrims, according to the official Saudi news agency SPA.
Early Saturday, the pilgrims will leave for Mount Arafat, around 20 kilometres East of Mecca, where the Hajj reaches its peak.
The granite hill is the place where the Prophet Mohammed delivered his last sermon around 14 centuries ago.
There, the pilgrims ritually chant in supplication to God to forgive their sins.
This year’s Hajj, which ends on Tuesday, is being held amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran, a regional rival of Saudi Arabia.
Over the past few days, Saudi officials have repeatedly warned pilgrims against engaging in politics and called on them to focus on worshipping.
The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a mandatory duty for all Muslims once in a lifetime if they possess enough financial resources and are physically capable of undertaking the journey.