More than 1.8M pilgrims gather in Mecca ahead of the hajj

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Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The hajj occurs once a year during the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar year. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia says more than 1.8 million Muslims from around the world have arrived in the country to take part in the hajj pilgrimage that starts on Friday.

The Director General of Passports, Gen. Suleiman al-Yehya, announced the figure Wednesday, saying close to 970,000 male and 868,000 female pilgrims had arrived to Saudi Arabia for the hajj. In total, more than 2 million people, including Saudis and expatriate residents of the kingdom, are expected to take part this year.

Muslims are required to perform the five-day hajj once in their lifetime. The pilgrimage is meant to draw the faithful closer to God.

The Saudi government has spent billions of dollars to improve the safety of the pilgrimage in recent years, particularly in Mina where the deadliest incidents have occurred.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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