Muslim pilgrims mass in Makkah for Haj

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Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world began moving on Tuesday from the holy city of Makkah to nearby Mina for the start of Haj.

Almost two million people are expected to take part in this year’s pilgrimage, undeterred by a crane collapse in Makkah earlier this month that killed 109 people and injured nearly 400 at Islam’s holiest site.

“It is a gift from God that He has chosen us to come here,” said Walaa Ali, a 35-year-old Egyptian pilgrim with tears in her eyes. “I am so happy to be here.”

Nearby, both men and women sat side by side listening to preachers explain the history and rituals of the hajj, one of the world’s largest annual gatherings.

This year’s Haj begins against a backdrop of increased jihadist violence, a surge of the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus and with Saudi Arabia at war in Yemen.