The annual pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, began yesterday. Maximum security alert, but there are no particular fears of attacks. Riyadh has allocated 30,000 health workers and alerted 25 hospitals to respond to emergencies. Doha accuses: the Saudi government has blocked the participation of the faithful of Qatar.
Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Heavy rains and thunderstorms are hindering Muslims who are visiting Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the major pilgrimage (Hajj). At least two million are taking part in the traditional annual event that started yesterday with the prayer at the Great Mosque. Today the transfer to Mina, in the area of Mount Arafat, east of the city, where Muhammad would have held his last sermon. Tomorrow the feast of the sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) will start, a three day memorial during which the pilgrims throw stones against the walls to symbolize the renunciation of the devil.
According to the Riyadh authorities there are at least two million faithful coming from all over the world to take part in the pilgrimage, defying bad weather. The Saudi Ministry of Health stresses that there are no epidemics or medical emergencies to report, as happened in the past due to overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions.
The colleagues of the Interior add that, for the moment, there are no particular terrorism warnings for possible attacks; however, the attention of the authorities in terms of safety remains at maximum levels to avoid the danger of accidents. In 2015, a very serious accident devastated the pilgrimage: around 800 people (Saudi sources) were killed in the crowd; in reality the number of corpses repatriated to their countries of origin would have been more than 2 thousand, including 400 Iranians.
To ensure the safety of the faithful there are over 30 thousand health workers operating in the field, plus security personnel. At least 25 hospitals spread throughout the territory ready to intervene, providing free medical care to the faithful, including complex operations such as heart surgery in case of need.
The Hajj (pilgrimage) is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and every good Muslim should do it at least once in their lifetime. Saudi Arabia has often politically used permission to reach Mecca. For years the Syrians have been forbidden to go to the Muslim holy city. The crisis between Riyadh (Sunni) and Tehran (Shiite), still in progress between the two great regional powers, has effectively blocked the journeys of Iranian citizens to the kingdom in 2016.
This year there were tensions with Doha, which accused the Saudi leadership - with whom there has been a diplomatic and commercial dispute for some time - to stop its pilgrims at the borders. "The procedures for registration of pilgrims from Qatar - explains an official - remain closed and citizens cannot receive an entry visa". According to a quota system, at least 1200 Qatari citizens should participate in Hajj, but it is "impossible" to access the Saudi Ministry website to obtain the necessary documentation.
In the past, Riyadh's leadership has been targeted by some imams accusing that the Saudi government uses money from religious tourism to finance Islamic terrorism.