The hajj (file photo) (epa)
December 26, 2006 -- Authorities in Saudi Arabia say more than 1.5 million Muslims have arrived so far to take part in the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which starts in a few days.
The Saudi Health Ministry says more than 9,600 medical personnel are being mobilized and 21 field hospitals set up at Mecca and Medina, Islam's two holiest places, for this year's pilgrimage.
Increased security measures are also being implemented to protect against possible sectarian and militant attacks or stampedes during the five-day ritual.
Click on the map for an enlarged image.
THE HAJJ: Every year, Islamic pilgrims converge on the Saudi holy city of Mecca for what is considered to be the world's largest single gathering of human beings -- the annual hajj pilgrimage, the fifth and final pillar of Islam. Hajj literally means "to set out for a place," and every able-bodied Muslim with the means to do so is expected to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime, traditionally after first settling all their wordly affairs...(more)