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MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — As Muslims from around the world stream into Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage this week, they come to a city undergoing the biggest transformation in its history.
Next to Islam's holiest site, the Kaaba, soars the world's third tallest skyscraper. Hotel towers and malls have been built up to the edge of the Grand Mosque.
Critics complain the result is stripping the holy city of its spirituality. They also say it is robbing the hajj of its more than 1,400-year-old message that all Muslims, rich or poor, are equal before God as they perform the rites meant to cleanse them of sin, starting and ending by circling the Kaaba seven times.
Saudi officials say the urban renewal is necessary to accommodate hajj pilgrims whose numbers are expected to swell from around 3 million today to nearly 7 million by 2040.
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