Millions of Muslims gather in Mecca for Hajj pilgrimage

Millions of Muslims from around the world are gathering in Saudi Arabia to perform special ceremonies for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Close to 1.5 million Muslims descended Thursday on the Saudi holy city of Mecca to perform the five-day rituals.

The major Hajj rituals are performed from the 8th through the 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

In one of the first rites of Hajj, which formally starts on Saturday, white-clad pilgrims take their turn circling the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in a procession that continues 24 hours a day.

Some three million pilgrims are expected to arrive for the pilgrimage, a ritual that every able-bodied and financially able Muslim is obliged to undertake during their lifetime.

Over the past year, Saudi Arabia has been under harsh criticism over its handling of the Mina incident, which saw the deaths of thousands of pilgrims during the 2015 Hajj rituals. Critics say the country is incompetent to host the annual Hajj congregation.

The crush of last year occurred after two large masses of pilgrims converged at a crossroads in Mina during the symbolic ceremony of the stoning of Satan in Jamarat on September 24, 2015.

This year, Muslim pilgrims have to wear an electronic bracelet during their stay in Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh has reportedly awarded the British security firm G4S a deal to make electronic bracelets aimed at controlling the pilgrims.

The British security group maintains close cooperation with the Israeli spy agencies. The bracelets will contain personal and medical information which can be accessed by security and services bodies via a smartphone.

According to the Saudi Gazette newspaper, the high-tech measure will help authorities provide care “and identify people.”

Muslim pilgrims walk near the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy Muslim city of Mecca on September 8, 2016. ©AFP

Wristlets are reportedly resistant and connected to a GPS location system.

The electronic bracelet was introduced by the Saudi government late June following the deadly crush.

In addition, Saudi authorities have installed more than 800 surveillance cameras at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca.

Cameras have been installed at Mecca’s Grand Mosque and will be linked to control rooms staffed by special forces monitoring pilgrim movements during Hajj rituals.

Saudi emergency personnel stand near bodies of Hajj pilgrims killed at a human crush in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, at the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia on September 24, 2015. ©AFP

Saudi Arabia claims nearly 770 people were killed in the incident, but Iranian officials say about 4,700 people lost their lives in the tragedy. The number of the Iranian fatalities is at least 464, the highest toll among all countries.

The tragedy came days after a massive construction crane collapsed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 people and leaving over 200 others wounded.

According to figures by Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, 11 Iranian pilgrims were killed and 32 others injured in the incident.

This year, Iran has said it will not participate in the Hajj pilgrimage because of the “obstacles” created by Saudi Arabia, among them its failure to guarantee the safety of Hajj pilgrims.

Iran’s decision came after Riyadh failed, following lengthy negotiations in May, to address the Islamic Republic’s concerns regarding the safety and dignity of its nationals during the Hajj pilgrimage.

In a message to Hajj pilgrims on Monday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Saudi rulers were to blame for the deaths of thousands of pilgrims in both incidents during last year’s rituals.

By Press TV