Several million Muslims, including 1.4 million from abroad, are continuing their annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Security has been bolstered to guard against Ebola and MERS viral outbreaks and terrorist risks.
Joyful Muslims dressed in white performed rituals near Mecca on Friday as their annual pilgrimage entered its second key day. Absent were 7,200 would-be pilgrims from three Ebola-hit West Africa nations.
Saudi Arabia had suspended their visas, saying it needed to do so to avoid the risk of Ebola reaching the holy city.
The Saudi authorities had screened pilgrims arriving from other parts of West Africa – such as Nigeria and Senegal – and were also on the lookout for signs of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrone (MERS).
That disease emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Of 755 cases, 320 resulted in death.
On Friday, Saudi Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Mirghalani said: “We had no suspected cases of Ebola or MERS among the pilgrims so far.”
Walking from Mina
The route of Friday’s pilgrimage led believers six kilometers (four miles) from Mina to the foot of Mount Mercy (pictured) on the Arafat plain where, according to scripture, the Muslim Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon 14 centuries ago.
Elderly pilgrims sat in wheelchairs. Infants were seen in prams.
On Saturday, pilgrims converge on Mecca for prayers.
Saudi Arabia was expected to host nearly three million pilgrims in all, including 1.4 million authorized visitors from 164 foreign countries.
‘Prepared’ for threats
This year’s Hajj comes as Saudi Arabia and four other Arab nations join the United States in airstrikes against ‘Islamic State’ (IS) militants accused of perpetrating widespread atrocities in swathes of Syria and adjourning Iraq.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Turki said the kingdom had been prepared to defend “its people from terrorism for a long time.”
“We have enforced our security readiness at all borders of Saudi Arabia,” he added.
This year, Saudi Arabia allowed attendance to fewer pilgrims than usual for safety reasons citing construction work to enlarge the Grand Mosque in Mecca, where special forces are on patrol.
It is customary that all practicing Muslims to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca and its adjourning sites at least once in their lives.