Saudi Arabia says more than 1.8 million Muslims from around the world have arrived in the country to take part in the hajj pilgrimage, the fifth pillar of Islam, that starts on Friday.
The Director General of Passports, Gen. Suleiman al-Yehya, announced the figure Wednesday, saying close to 970,000 male and 868,000 female pilgrims had arrived to Saudi Arabia for the hajj. In total, more than 2 million people, including Saudis and expatriate residents of the kingdom, are expected to take part this year.
Muslims are required to perform the five-day hajj at least once in their lifetime if they are able to do it. The pilgrimage is meant to draw the faithful closer to God.
The Saudi government has spent billions of dollars to improve the safety of the pilgrimage in recent years, particularly in Mina where the deadliest incidents have occurred.