2 million people from dozens of countries around the world are in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to perform the hajj, the Islamic religious pilgrimage, although more than a dozen of their number have died from heart attacks while performing this year’s sacred journey.
Some 1.7 million hajjis have travelled by air, land and sea to Saudi Arabia from 80 countries around the world; another 200,000 reside in the kingdom. Under a quota system 221,000 Indonesians, 179,000 Pakistanis, 170,000 Indians, 79,000 Turks and 86,500 Iranians are among the nationalities that have secured hajj visas; 1,200 Qataris are also attending, although Saudi Arabia and the emirate are currently at odds.
Since Riyadh has no diplomatic relations with Damascus, Syrians have to obtain visas from third countries. At least 1,000 Palestinians belonging to families who have lost members in clashes with Israelis have arrived from Gaza as guests of Saudi King Salman.
The hajj in Mecca attracts millions Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia:
Saudi Arabia has deployed 100,000 security personnel to keep order, prevent political protests, and ensure the safety of the pilgrims. Stampedes, fires, demonstrations and violence have, over the years, led to thousands of deaths. The latest disaster was in 2015 when more than 2,000 were crushed to death.
Some 51,000 civilian employees provide essential services. A fleet of ambulances has been deployed, 30,000 health workers are on duty, and 5,000 hospital beds have been made ready. Many pilgrims are elderly and ailing and believe it is a blessing to die on the hajj.
Most Expensive Trips to Mecca Draw Controversy Over Luxury Hotels:
While praying at the Grand Mosque, all Muslims are considered equal, and it’s one of the few mosques in the world where men and women pray alongside one another. Immediately outside of this sacred site, however, the experience for worshipers varies immensely.
For those who can afford it, the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia makes available a number of extravagant options to perform the annual spiritual journey. Travel companies that specialize in setting up pilgrimage packages capitalize on the yearly migration in a huge way, and the Saudi government itself raked in as much as $10 billion in 2015, according to BBC News. As the future of oil grows uncertain, Saudi Arabia is looking more toward tourism and pilgrimage as a means of generating revenue.