First day of annual hajj pilgrimage in Makkah

TOPSHOT- Muslim worshippers perform prayers around the Kaaba Islam's holiest shrine at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca

The five-day hajj pilgrimage represents one of the world's biggest gathering every year, a trip required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life.

"There is a comprehensive electronic agenda for every pilgrim and we have provided many apps that offer guidance", Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Bintin told Reuters.

- More than two million pilgrims are taking part this year, according to official figures, compared to 1.86 million in 2016 and just 24,000 in 1941. When Muslims pray five times in a day, wherever they are in the world, they face the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca.

The ultra-conservative kingdom - where religion remains a guiding force amid dramatic social and economic reforms - has mobilised vast resources for the six-day journey, one of the five pillars of Islam.

Pilgrims enter into a state of spiritual purity known as "ihram" that is aimed at shedding symbols of materialism, giving up worldly pleasures and focusing on the inner self over outward appearance.

Men attending the hajj dress in only terrycloth, seamless white garments meant to represent unity among Muslims and equality before God.

Muslims are forbidden from engaging in sexual intercourse, cutting their hair or trimming nails while in ihram. It also stalled operations such as serving of food to pilgrims. Inevitably, though, the massive crowds and physical exhaustion of the journey test pilgrims' patience and tolerance.

Pilgrims perform Sa'i which is to run between two hills - Al-Safa and Al-Marwa - seven times.

In 2015, a crane collapse at the Grand Mosque in Mecca killed 111 people.

On Monday, pilgrims will climb nearby Mount Arafat for the climax of Haj, praying and reading the Holy Quran. If a pilgrim doesn't perform the wuquf, their Hajj isn't valid.

Some pilgrims on Saturday hiked 700 metres (2,300 feet) to the tiny Hira cave, where Muslims believe the Prophet was visited by the Angel Gabriel and began to receive Koranic recitations.

Pilgrims will then head to Muzdalifa area, picking up pebbles along the way for a symbolic stoning of the devil in the Mina valley.

Skyrocketing prices of fuel and electricity have hit Egyptians hard, forcing many to indefinitely delay travel plans to the annual hajj.

Barrister Muhammad also read a riot act to all state pilgrims officials on the use of ambulances and welfare of pilgrims. The holiday, remembering Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son, sees Muslims slaughter sheep and cattle, distributing the meat to the poor. Maj.

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