More than two million Muslims begin the annual hajj today as the Saudi hosts seek to deter politicization of the pilgrimage against a backdrop of simmering Gulf tensions, AFP reports.
The hajj, one of the world's largest annual religious gatherings, is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means
at least once in their lives.
It consists of a series of religious rites which are completed over five days in Islam's holiest city and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.
Some 2.5 million faithful, the majority from abroad, will undertake the pilgrimage this year, according to Saudi media.
"More than 1.8 million visas were delivered online without the need for middlemen. It's a success," said hajj ministry official Hatim bin Hassan Qadi.