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Muslim Pilgrims Begin Hajj in Saudi Arabia

Millions of Muslims from around the world have prayed at Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia, at the start of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Officials in Saudi Arabia say some two million Muslims have made the journey for the Hajj pilgrimage, the largest religious gathering in the world.

The pilgrims journeyed on Sunday from Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed, toward Mount Arafat, where the prophet is said to have delivered his last sermon.

Prayers on and around the mount are one of the climactic spiritual moments in the Hajj. On Tuesday, pilgrims will begin a ritual of symbolically stoning the devil in the town of Mina.

The Hajj is the oldest and most sacred ritual of Islam and is required of all physically and financially able Muslims.



Attendance at this year's Hajj is down sharply from last year, as Saudi authorities cut back on visas because of fears of the MERS virus. The virus killed more than 50 people in Saudi Arabia this past year.

Coping with the world's largest annual human assembly has posed major logistical and security difficulties for Saudi Arabia. The oil-rich nation has invested billions of dollars over the years to avoid deadly stampedes that have marred the Hajj in the past. In July 1990, 1,426 pilgrims were trampled to death in a stampede.

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