Muslim pilgrims mass in Mecca for hajj
Mecca (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world began moving on Tuesday from the holy city of Mecca to nearby Mina for the start of the hajj.
Almost two million people are expected to take part in this year's pilgrimage, undeterred by a crane collapse in Mecca earlier this month that killed 109 people and injured nearly 400 at Islam's holiest site.
"It is a gift from God that He has chosen us to come here," said Walaa Ali, a 35-year-old Egyptian pilgrim with tears in her eyes. "I am so happy to be here."
Nearby, both men and women sat side by side listening to preachers explain the history and rituals of the hajj, one of the world's largest annual gatherings.
This year's hajj begins against a backdrop of increased jihadist violence, a surge of the deadly MERS virus and with Saudi Arabia at war in Yemen.
The first day of the hajj is known as Tarwiah Day, when pilgrims traditionally watered their animals and stocked water for their trip to Mount Arafat, about 10 kilometres (six miles) southeast of Mina.
Nowadays pilgrims spend their time there in prayer and reciting the Koran.
The climax of the hajj season is on Arafat Day, which falls on Wednesday.
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