Hajj set to begin amid Qatar-Saudi tensions and Egypt's economic woes

Saudi Arabia barring Hajj pilgrims, Qatar says

Saudi Arabia's worldwide feuds have spilled over into the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

Tens of thousands of security personnel have been deployed for the pilgrimage, which was struck by its worst-ever disaster three years ago when hundreds of worshippers were crushed to death in a stampede.

One of the five pillars of the world's fastest-growing religion, the hajj is expected to draw two million people from around the globe this year. By Thursday, more than 1.6 million people had arrived in Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, AFP reported.

"There are specific routes and roads that have been created in past years as part of the Hajj infrastructure to help the pilgrims make an easy journey from Arafat to Muzdalifah".

Mecca Governor Prince Khalid al-Faisal said there were some 86,000 Iranian pilgrims this year and around 300 from Qatar, which is locked in a year-old diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia over alleged support for terrorism, which Qatar denies.

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Hajj retraces the last steps of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and also honours the prophets, Abraham (AS) and Ishmael (AS).

A crush in 2015 killed almost 800 pilgrims, according to Riyadh, although counts by countries of repatriated bodies showed over 2,000 may have died, more than 400 of them Iranians. Around the world, Muslims will mark the end of hajj with a celebration called Eid al-Adha. Observant Muslims around the world face toward the Kaaba during their five daily prayers.

Pilgrims pray outside Namira Mosque on the plains of Arafat during Hajj on August 20,2018.

At around sunset on Monday, pilgrims will head to an area near Muzdalifa which is 5.5 miles west of Arafat.

Muslims believe that it was on the Day of Arafat that Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon at Mount Arafat.

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They gather pebbles to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil on the eve of the Eid al-Adha feast.

This year's pilgrimage comes with the oil-flush kingdom witnessing unprecedented change, including an end to a ban on women driving.

Saudi Arabia has drawn harsh criticism for a crackdown on political dissent since the appointment past year of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose modernisation campaign has grabbed headlines around the world.

The Hajj offers pilgrims an opportunity to feel closer to Allah (God).

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official at Saudi Arabia's Hajj ministry accused Qatar of of trying to "politicize the Hajj".

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Meanwhile, the custodian of the two sacred mosques of Makkah and Medina yesterday urged pilgrims to avoid the emerging congestion and crowd mounting on the holy cities, especially during congregation prayers.

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