A picture taken on Sept. 9, 2016 shows a general view of Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circling around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, in the Saudi city of Mecca. / AFP / AHMAD GHARABLI
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From Asia, Africa and points in between, nearly 1.5 million Muslims began the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia to Islam's holiest sites Saturday, undeterred by last year's deadly stampede.The numbers are down because of the absence of tens of thousands of Iranians over tensions between their Shiite nation and the Sunni-dominated Gulf kingdom.In debilitating temperatures exceeding 40 C (100 F), some pilgrims walked under colored parasols.The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which capable Muslims must perform at least once, marking the spiritual peak of their lives.Mina becomes the pilgrims' base, where an expanse of solidly built white fireproof tents can accommodate 2.6 million people beneath bare mountains.Authorities aim to give bracelets to each of the 1.3 million faithful from abroad, who are expected to be joined by more than 100,000 Muslims residing in Saudi Arabia.Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars in hajj infrastructure and safety projects over the years.
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