More than two million Muslims have gathered in the holy city of Mecca for the annual haj pilgrimage. Tight security is in place to avert any militant attacks or deadly stampedes. The haj has been marred in the past by fires, hotel collapses and police clashes. In January 2006, more than 360 people were crushed to death on a bridge. Saudi authorities have made renovations to ease the flow of pilgrims. “The arrangement is very nice, everywhere. And people are performing the haj very nicely,” said one worshipper.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can afford the trip must perform haj, one of the pillars of Islam, once in his or her lifetime. Sunday will mark the climax of the pilgrimage. Then, worshippers will converge on Mount Arafat, around 15 kilometres east of Mecca. That is where the Prophet Mohammad is said to have given his last sermon, 14 centuries ago.