BBC.Thursday, 10 February, 2000
y Islamic Affairs Correspondent Roger Hardy

Performing the Hajj at least once in a lifetime is 
one of the five "pillars", or duties, of Islam.

About two million Muslim pilgrims have begun 
the annual rites of the hajj.

By Islamic Affairs Correspondent Roger Hardy 

Performing the Hajj at least once in a lifetime is 
one of the five "pillars", or duties, of Islam. 

Every year about two million Muslims
converge on Mecca and Medina 
- the two holiest places in Islam - 
to take part in an event which
combines piety and passion. 

Many Muslims save for years
in order to perform the pilgrimage. 
They often have to travel thousands of miles. 
Then, once they arrive, they must brave the fierce 
heat of the desert as they perform the Hajj rituals. 

Faith and politics 
For the host country, Saudi Arabia,
the event has a special importance. 
Saudi rulers are acutely conscious of their
responsibility as custodians of the Muslim holy places. 

The sheer number of pilgrims poses formidable problems. 
In recent years hundreds have died
as a result of demonstrations, 
fires, stampedes - or just sunstroke and exhaustion. 

The Saudi authorities have introduced 
a quota system to keep down the numbers. 
They have also tried, and failed,
to keep politics out of the Hajj. 

In 1987 hundreds of pilgrims were killed
in clashes between the Saudi security
forces and Iranian-led demonstrators. 

Muslims are divided over whether
faith and politics should mix. 
But many regard such a big gathering as 
an ideal chance to promote political causes. 

So the Hajj reflects the divisions within the Muslim world, 
as well as the goal of Muslim solidarity. 

Internet links:
Hajj Information Centre

Hajj Information

 Devotees from more than 120 countries are taking part

The biggest security headache is simply 
ensuring the safe flow of the pilgrims

Sheep are delivered for the traditional 
slaughter at the end of the week

Muslims are supposed to make 
the journey to Mecca once in their lifetime

Correspondents say there is no public 
debate of the fall-out from 11 September

Pilgrims clamber on to buses to retrace 
Mohammad's steps from Mecca to Mina

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