Hajis throng Saudi, 20 lakh gather

Makkah (Saudi Arabia), Aug 31  Nearly two million Muslims from around the world have gathered here in an effort "to renew their sense of purpose in life, erase past sins and beg God for forgiveness and guidance" at the annual Haj pilgrimage. Around 1,70,000 Indians are on the Haj pilgrimage this year. Saudi Arabia organises and conducts the pilgrimage, under the supervision of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman -- the Custodians of the two holy mosques (Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina). "Hosting Haj each year is an honour and a great responsibility for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one we hold dear to our hearts," Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad said in a statement on Thursday.  "We spare no effort when it comes to the well-being of pilgrims and our number one priority is to welcome individuals from all over the world as they seek to fulfil their religious and spiritual duty," he added. Haj, the largest annual international gathering, is the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah, which began on Wednesday. It will go on till September 4. The rituals involved are intended to cleanse the soul and demonstrate the equality and solidarity of all Muslims, in their submission to God, said the statement.  In fact, along with the idea of successful organisation of Haj, Saudi Arabia is also seeking to position itself as a welcoming and inclusive destination for all Muslims to celebrate their faith and culture, according to the Culture Ministry's statement. It further said that the country plans to leverage Haj as an opportunity to position Islam as a united, tolerant and peaceful faith, so that pilgrims take a message of hope and unity back home. (IANS)