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Sacred Meets Profane During Hajj

Politics and profit mix with spirituality during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Muslim pilgrims pray atop Mount Thor in the holy city of Mecca ahead of the annual haj pilgrimage October 11, 2013. Mount Thor marks the start of the journey of the Prophet Mohammad and his companion Abu Bakr Al-Sadeeq from Mecca to Medina. It houses Thor cave where Prophet Mohammed is believed to have hid from the people of Quraish before his Hijra (migration) to Medina.  REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: RELIGION) - RTX147ME

More than 2 million pilgrims are visiting Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage season that will culminate in celebrating Eid. This mass ritual has always been tightly controlled for fear of it turning into a political rally. The Saudi authorities insist that pilgrims only chant religious supplication, perform the elaborate stages of the journey and return home thanking the Saudi leadership for providing security, comfort, transport and health care. From the Saudi authorities' point view, any political slogans, especially those that denounce Saudi policies, are seen as an aberration and a security concern.

Any accidents resulting from overcrowding are bound to undermine Saudi legitimacy that unfold during this season. After all, the Saudi king adopts the title "Servant of the Two Holy Mosques," Mecca and Medina. This service, however, is not only for religious reasons, as the pilgrimage season is also a time for politics and profiteering.

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