Millions of Muslims meet in Mecca for hajj pilgrimage

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Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Arafat during the annual hajj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia September 11, 2016. Photos By Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Arafat during the annual hajj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia September 11, 2016. Photos By Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

More than a million Muslims on Sunday ascended the craggy hills of Mount Arafat outside the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca during the peak of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

The climb, conducted by many of the estimated 2 million people now reported to be in Mecca, is among several religious rituals Muslims follow each year as they retrace the steps of their prophets through Islam’s holiest sites.

It is believed that the prophet Muhammad gave his final sermon atop Mount Arafat, 12 miles outside of Mecca, about 1,400 years ago. All Muslims are required to make the religious pilgrimage at least once during the course of their lives if they are able.

Muslim pilgrims gather on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage. September 11, 2016. Photo By Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Muslim pilgrims gather on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage. September 11, 2016. Photo By Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Saudi Arabia increased security this year after a 2015 stampede during the hajj killed hundreds of devotees, with as many as 400 from from Iran. The Saudi government said nearly 800 people died, though some countries whose citizens attended have pinned the death toll at more than 2,000. Hundreds of religious pilgrims also were killed by stampedes in 2004 and 2006.

Following the stampede and the execution of a Shiite cleric by Saudi Arabia, which renewed diplomatic tensions between the two countries, the Iranian government blocked its citizens from attending this year.

On Sunday, police were seen directing foot traffic and using drones to monitor crowd movement.

The Associated Press reported health checkpoints were established along the route, with water-spraying stations used to cool the masses, as temperatures rose above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

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