MINA, Saudi Arabia: Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims began their slow and steady trek to the tent city of Mina on Saturday night in the first leg of their five-day journey. Almost all pilgrims will be in their tents by Sunday afternoon. They will spend a day in contemplation before moving to the Plains of Arafat Monday in what is described as the most significant ritual of the pilgrimage.
Earlier in the day, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah appointed Second Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Prince Naif to oversee Haj. Prince Naif, who is also chairman of the Supreme Haj Committee, has been in Makkah this last week, supervising security arrangements for the pilgrimage.
Prince Naif's designation came a day after doctors asked the king to rest due to a disc problem.
In Makkah (Mecca), hundreds of buses and smaller shuttles packed with pilgrims were headed toward Mina. Young and healthy pilgrims, however, decided to walk the distance. Saudi authorities said all arrangements were in place for the world's largest Muslim gathering.
Thousands of food outlets have been set up to cater to the faithful. Bakeries are equipped to prepare 10 million loaves of bread a day. The Ministry of Health is geared and waiting to serve the guests of God. It has opened dozens of health centers in the holy sites to aid the faithful who should find Haj easier this year thanks to the moderate weather. Local temperatures varied between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius.
On Monday morning, the pilgrims will move toward Mount Arafat where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered his last sermon more than 14 centuries ago. The pilgrims will then return to Mina after spending the night in Muzdalifah. They will throw stones at Jamrat Al-Aqaba representing the devil and sacrifice animals to mark the Eid Al-Adha, which starts Tuesday and will spend the final two days in Mina to take part in the symbolic stoning of the devil.