By CHIKA IZUORA
Saudi Arabia has to date welcomed 1.497 million pilgrims who have flocked to the country in preparation for the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage, which is due to begin on August 30, 2017.
In total, around two million people from across the globe are expected to visit the Holy City of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, making it the largest annual international gathering, and which, for many Muslims, is the highlight of their spiritual lives.
As one of the five pillars of Islam, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah, is mandatory for physically and financially capable Muslims to perform at least once in their lives. The rituals involved are intended to cleanse the soul and demonstrate the equality and solidarity of all Muslims, in their submission to God.
The responsibility for organizing the pilgrimage falls on the government of Saudi Arabia, under direct supervision of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; a huge logistical undertaking that will run until Hajj ends on the 4th of September, 2017.
Meanwhile, the number of foreign pilgrims has multiplied exponentially over the years, from as few as 24,000 in 1941 to 1.325 million in 2016. Including local pilgrims that reside in Saudi Arabia, a total of 1.86 million Muslims performed the Hajj last year.
Saudi officials have prepared to receive the massive influx of pilgrims, many of whom also visit the second Holy City of Madinah. The Hajj team deployed on the ground speaks over a dozen languages to ensure that the needs of pilgrims are met.
Mina is also known as the City of Tents as it hosts tens of thousands of air-conditioned tents as temporary accommodation for a significant portion of the pilgrims expected to take part in Hajj this year. Mina is located between Mount Arafat and Makkah’s Grand Mosque.
The tents are neatly arranged in rows and grouped into areas labeled with numbers and colors according to nationality. Every pilgrim is given a badge with an assigned number and color to help them find the way back to their tent if they get lost. To prevent fires, the tents are constructed of Teflon-coated fiberglass, and are fitted with sprinklers and fire extinguishers.
On security, more than 17,000 highly trained personnel, supported by 3,000 advanced vehicles, are in position to guarantee pilgrims the highest level of safety.
There are about 300 ground ambulances, 30 motorbikes, 113 ambulance centers and 8 air ambulances while about 2,000 Saudi Red Crescent Authority personnel were deployed in Makkah, Madinah and other holy sites to provide ambulance services to pilgrims during Hajj.