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Hajj begins with Middle East turmoil on many minds

Hajj begins with Middle East turmoil on many minds
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Muslim pilgrims have flooded into Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the fifth and final pillar of Islam.

Construction work at the Grand Mosque has kept numbers down this year but two million people are expected.

Saudi security forces and medical teams are on duty to try to keep the Hajj safe. It has seen stampedes in the past and this year there are also fears over the deadly MERS coronavirus.

Some, like Syrian pilgrim Abdel Kerim Ahmed, are concerned about turbulence in the Middle East.
“Syria is suffering and that means that Arabs and Muslims are also suffering,” he said. “I ask God from here, Mecca, to lift the suffering of the Syrian people and stop the bloodshed.”
“I am praying that God will bring stability and unity to Egypt so we can advance and prosper,” said Egyptian pilgrim Essam Hassouna. “As an Egyptian, it is more important for me to pray for Egypt than for myself and my children. I pray to God that Egypt becomes better than it ever was.”

Pilgrims often spend time looking for gifts and souvenirs before the Hajj rituals begin. This year Mecca’s jewellery retailers are reporting a drop in gold sales, with some blaming economic hardship brought about by the Arab Spring.