Two million Muslims from around the world have arrived in Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage two years after a deadly stampede killed more than 2,000 worshippers.
Shiite Muslims from Iran returned to Mecca in Saudia Arabia, following the biggest catastrophe in the history of the hajj.
Last year the tragedy killed nearly 2,300 pilgrims with 464 Iranians among the fatalities, leading to officials in Tehran criticising Saudi Arabia’s organisation of the pilgrimage.
Two million Muslims from around the world have arrived in Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage two years after a deadly stampede killed more than 2,000 worshippers
Worshippers visit Mount Al-Noor where the Prophet Muhammad received the first words of the Koran in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
The two countries severed diplomatic relations in January 2016 after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was ransacked by a crowd protesting against the execution in the kingdom of a Shiite religious dignitary.
However, neither Iran or its Sunni regional rival, wants to prolong the dispute.
This year’s hajj pilgrimage also comes at a time when the Gulf is mired by a political crisis and ISIS continues to fight in Iraq and Syria.
For nearly three months, Saudi Arabia and its allies have faced off against Qatar, which they accuse of being too close to Iran and backing extremism.
A boycott imposed on the small but gas-rich emirate since June 5 has resulted in Qatar’s land, sea and air links being badly affected.
This has also had a knock-on effect on hajj-related travel, although Riyadh announced it was relaxing certain restrictions for pilgrims.
In the arrivals hall at Jeddah airport, determined pilgrims walk hastily to avoid losing contact with other members of their group.
Thousands of Muslim worshippers kneel as they pray outside the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia
A group of Muslim worshippers enjoy a drink while they rest during a visit to Mount Al-Noor in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
‘I’m so happy to be a part of it this year,’ said 43-year-old Nigerian Mohammed Said, in the seamless two-piece white garment or ‘ihram’ worn by male pilgrims.
‘I want to do it every year if I can afford it,’ added Said who is in Saudi Arabia for his third hajj.
‘Every time it’s different — it’s like I’m doing it for the first time.’
The hajj is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in a lifetime if he or she has the means to do so.
‘I’m so excited because many people dream of coming to this place,’ said 47-year-old Eni from Indonesia, her face framed in a sand-coloured veil trimmed with lace.
‘We feel more religious when we leave this place,’ she said.
Muslim prospective Hajj pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, located in the centre of the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca
Thousands of Muslims stand in lines as they perform prayers at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca
For author Zeghidour, going on the hajj takes pilgrims to another level altogether.
‘The pilgrim has to run, move, and perform several stages’ of the ritual.
‘It is so physically and mentally demanding that he doesn’t have time to think about the crisis in the Gulf. For him this is literature.
‘Many pilgrims come from Asia or Africa, far from the Middle East, and they come to a place where they can try to forget their lives back home.’
Murderous jihadist attacks across the world in recent years will be on the minds of many pilgrims, especially those from Iraq and Syria where the ISIS has suffered a series of setbacks.
But the threat from extremists has not put off pilgrims such as Fatima, from Perpignan in southern France.
‘I’ve been waiting to go on this journey for a long time,’ she said, wearing a red veil like the other people in her group.