Fri Aug 25, 2017 05:56AM
Muslim worshipers pray at the Ka’aba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca on June 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Muslim worshipers pray at the Ka’aba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca on June 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

More than 1.4 million Muslims have arrived so far in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage slated to begin next week, with this year’s rituals featuring the return of tens of thousands of Iranians.

“So far 1,313,946 pilgrims have arrived by air, 79,501 by land, and 12,477 by sea,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Thursday, citing passport officials.

The arrivals showed an increase of 33 percent compared with the same period last year, the SPA said, adding that the total number could surpass two million.

This year’s rituals will begin next Wednesday and continue until the following Monday. Muslims can also perform the Umrah or Lesser Pilgrimage during the rest of the year, but that is no substitute for the obligatory rituals, known as Tumattu Pilgrimage.

Based on the Islamic rules, every Muslim possessing the relevant physical and financial capability is obligated to perform the rituals once in his or her lifetime over a five-day period from the eighth to the 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last month on the lunar calendar.

The total number of arrivals in 2016 stood at more than 1.8 million amid the absence of roughly 64,000 Iranian nationals, who did not attend due to Saudi Arabia’s failure to offer the cooperation needed to enable their travel and ensure the pilgrims security.

The kingdom withheld the assistance after cutting off ties with Iran in January 2016 in response to angry protests in front of its Iran-based diplomatic premises against the execution of notable Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Pilgrims of different nationalities pray at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca on August 24, 2017. (Photo by IRNA)

This January, however, it forwarded an invite to the Islamic Republic to send over the Iranian pilgrims. Tehran decided to send pilgrims to Saudi Arabia after Riyadh accepted its conditions.

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In September 2015, a deadly human crush occurred during Hajj rituals in Mina, near the holy Saudi city of Mecca.

Days into the incident, Saudi Arabia published a death toll of 770 but refused to update it despite gradually surging fatality figures from individual countries whose nationals had been among the victims of the crush. Unofficial sources put the death toll at almost 7,000 people. Iran said about 465 of its nationals lost their lives in the incident.

This year’s arrivals also included more than 400 Qatari pilgrims,whose country has been the target of a Saudi-led blockade.

Saudi Arabia and three of its allies cut their diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism. Doha rejects the claim.

Earlier in the month, though, the kingdom announced that it would open its borders with Qatar to allow Muslim pilgrims to reach Mecca for the pilgrimage.

Doha has expressed concerns over the safety of its pilgrims amid the ongoing tensions with Riyadh.