400,000 fewer pilgrims set for Hajj in Saudi Arabia

File: Pilgrims gather around the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia

Saudi authorities said two million Muslims from around the world are expected to converge on Islam’s holiest city of Mecca and nearby sites in Saudi Arabia to perform the pilgrimage, which starts today.

The figure is about 400,000 fewer than those who made the pilgrimage last year. Many would-be pilgrims, from Nigeria to Egypt, blamed rising costs and extra levies by Saudi authorities on frequent pilgrims, for staying at home.

In Nigeria, the number of pilgrims plummeted to 37,746 this year from 79,000 last year.

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a mandatory duty for all Muslims to make once in a lifetime if they possesses enough financial resources and are physically capable of undertaking the journey to the birthplace of the prophet Mohammed.

It ends for most Muslims on Thursday.

Men don seamless white clothes and women wear loose garments and must refrain from wearing make-up and jewellery.

They perform the same rituals in a demonstration of religious unity, equality and pursuit of spiritual renewal.

According to official Saudi figures, more than 750 people died in a hajj stampede during a stone-throwing ritual in the holy town of Mina near Mecca three years ago.

In 2017, 2.4 million pilgrims fulfilled the Hajj.

The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that is considered a mandatory religious duty by practicing Muslims.

According to figures published by Gulf news channel Al Jazeera, Egypt with 108,000 pilgrims was Africa’s largest contingent in 2017 even though they placed fifth on the list.

The top contributor was Indonesia followed by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in that order.

Other African countries that made the top 10 are Nigeria (79,000), Africa’s most populous nation is sandwiched by Iran and Turkey. Algeria had 36,000 and Morocco 31,000. (NAN)

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