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Annual hajj under way in Saudi

MECCA, Saudi Arabia – From Asia, Africa, and points in between, nearly 1.5 million Muslims began the annual hajj in western Saudi Arabia yesterday, undeterred by a stampede which last year killed around 2,300.

Thousands of Iranians are absent because of long-running tensions between their Shiite nation and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, friction exaggerated by the stampede.

After preliminary rituals this week in Mecca at the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, the pilgrims moved yesterday in buses, by train, or even on foot in debilitating temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius to Mina, about five kilometers east.

They are following in the footsteps of their Prophet Mohammed who performed the same rituals about 1,400 years ago.

The first day of hajj was traditionally the chance for pilgrims to water their animals and stock up on water. Then they proceed to Mount Arafat, several kilometers away, for the peak of hajj today. (AFP)