Saudi Arabia is making final preparations and welcoming millions of pilgrims into its borders for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which begins Wednesday and lasts until September 4.
The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which capable Muslims must perform at least once, marking the spiritual peak of their lives.
Worshippers from over 170 countries around the world will embark on a 5-day journey from the city of Mecca to Mount Arafat and back and perform sacred rites along the way.
The logistical task of hosting that many visitors in a short period of time is an annual challenge for officials. The government of Saudi Arabia has heightened its preparedness and security measures in the previous two years, following the stampede tragedy in 2015 in Mina that, according to Saudi Arabia’s official tally, claimed 769 lives while other estimates exceed 2,000 killed. It was the deadliest disaster in the history of the Hajj.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz and Chairman of the Supreme Haj Committee Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef inspected security arrangements at the holy sites and attended a military parade to mark the start of the Hajj season.
Saudi airspace will be closed to traffic today, August 28, which corresponds to the fifth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the final month of the Islamic calendar, in preparation for the beginning of haj rituals.