Skip to Content Facebook Feature Image

Muslims start the Hajj against the backdrop of the devastating Israel-Hamas war

News

Muslims start the Hajj against the backdrop of the devastating Israel-Hamas war
News

News

Muslims start the Hajj against the backdrop of the devastating Israel-Hamas war

2024-06-15 02:44 Last Updated At:02:51

MINA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — In sweltering temperatures, Muslim pilgrims in the Saudi city of Mecca converged on a vast desert tent camp Friday, officially starting the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Earlier, they circled the cube-shaped Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site.

More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world have already amassed in and around Mecca for the Hajj, and the number was still growing as more pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia joined. Authorities expected the number to exceed 2 million this year.

More Images
Tents for Muslim pilgrims fill the Mina tent camp as Muslim pilgrims arrive during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

MINA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — In sweltering temperatures, Muslim pilgrims in the Saudi city of Mecca converged on a vast desert tent camp Friday, officially starting the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Earlier, they circled the cube-shaped Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site.

Muslim pilgrims arrive at the Mina tent camp during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Muslim pilgrims arrive at the Mina tent camp during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban, right, sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The couple had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year, but like all Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip's southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban, right, sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The couple had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year, but like all Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip's southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024 in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The couple had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year, but like all Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip's southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024 in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The couple had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year, but like all Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip's southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Abdel Haleem Abu Mutlaq, and his wife Amna Abu Mutlaq, pose for a portrait in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. "We are deprived of (performing) Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of the raging wars and destruction," said Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman from Gaza's southern city of Khan Younis who had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Abdel Haleem Abu Mutlaq, and his wife Amna Abu Mutlaq, pose for a portrait in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. "We are deprived of (performing) Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of the raging wars and destruction," said Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman from Gaza's southern city of Khan Younis who had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Two blind pilgrims preform Hajj with the help of their guide outside of the Grand Mosque during the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Baraa Anwer)

Two blind pilgrims preform Hajj with the help of their guide outside of the Grand Mosque during the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Baraa Anwer)

A woman holds an umbrella to protect herself from the sun as she leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A woman holds an umbrella to protect herself from the sun as she leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A pilgrim covers his head with a praying mat to protect himself from the sun as he leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A pilgrim covers his head with a praying mat to protect himself from the sun as he leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

This year’s Hajj comes against the backdrop of the raging Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, which pushed the Middle East to the brink of a wider conflict.

Palestinians in Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May, when Israel expanded its ground offensive to the coastal strip’s southern city of Rafah, on the border with Egypt.

“We pray for the Muslims, for our country and people, for all the Muslim world, especially for the Palestinian people,” Mohammed Rafeeq, an Indian pilgrim, said as he headed to the tent camp in Mina.

Saudi authorities have apparently been concerned about potential protests or chants against the war during the Hajj pilgrimage. They said they won’t tolerate politicizing the pilgrimage.

“The kingdom resolutely confirms that it will not allow any attempt to turn the sacred sites (in Mecca) into an arena for mob chanting,” Col. Talal Al-Shalhoub, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said in a news conference Friday. “The security and safety of the guests of Rahman is a red line.”

Officials aid 4,200 pilgrims from the occupied West Bank went to the Hajj. Saudi authorities said 1,000 more from the families of Palestinians killed or wounded in Gaza also arrived, at the invitation of Saudi King Salman. The invitees were already outside Gaza — mostly in Egypt — before the closure of the Rafah border crossing.

“We are deprived of (performing) the Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of the raging wars and destruction,” said Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman in Gaza’s southern city of Khan Younis who had planned to make the pilgrimage this year but was unable to.

This year's Hajj also saw Syrian pilgrims traveling to Mecca on direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade. The change is part of an ongoing thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and conflict-stricken Syria. Syrians in rebel-held areas used to cross the border into neighboring Turkey to travel from there to the Hajj.

“This is the natural thing: Pilgrims go to Hajj directly from their home countries,” said Abdel-Aziz al-Ashqar, a Syrian coordinator of the group of pilgrims who left Damascus.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to make it at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so. It is a moving spiritual experience for pilgrims who believe it absolves sins and brings them closer to God.

Uniting the world’s more than 2 billion Muslims, it’s also a chance to pray for peace in many conflict-stricken Arab and Muslim countries, including Yemen and Sudan, where more than a year of war has created the world's largest displacement crisis.

For many Muslims, the Hajj is the only major journey they make in their lives. Some spend years saving up and waiting for a permit to make the Hajj in their 50s and 60s, after raising their children.

The rituals during the Hajj largely commemorate the Quran’s accounts of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Prophet Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar — or Abraham and Ismael as they are named in the Bible.

Male pilgrims wear an ihram, two unstitched sheets of white cloth that resemble a shroud, while women dress in conservative, loose-fitting clothing with headscarves and forgo makeup and perfume. The pilgrims have been circling around the cube-shaped Kaaba in the seven-minaret Grand Mosque since arriving in Mecca over recent days.

Saudi authorities have adopted security restrictions in and around Mecca, with checkpoints on roads leading to the city to prevent those who don’t have Hajj permits from reaching the holy sites.

Many who attempted to take pilgrims without Hajj permits have been arrested, said Lt. Gen. Muhammad al-Bassami, head of the Hajj Security Committee. Most were expelled from the country, while travel agents face up to six months in prison, the Interior Ministry said.

More than 256,000 visitors were not allowed to reach the holy sites because they lacked Hajj permits, Col. Talal Al-Shalhoub, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said at a news conference Friday.

Others who had incomplete papers paid fines to be allowed into Mecca. Mohammed Ramadan, an Egyptian who came to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj along with his parents, said he found that the type of visa they had didn't allow them into Mecca. They paid 500 Saudi riyals ($133) each to be able to reach the holy sites.

“We were mistreated,” he said while heading to their tent in Mina. “But we forgot everything when we saw the Grand Mosque.”

On Friday, the pilgrims made their way to Mina, to officially start the Hajj. They will then move for a daylong vigil Saturday on Mount Arafat, a desert hill where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his final speech. Healthy pilgrims make the trip on foot, others use a bus or train.

The time of year when the Hajj takes place varies as it's set for five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar.

Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. When it falls in the summer, temperatures can soar to over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The Health Ministry has cautioned that temperatures at the holy sites could reach 48 C (118 F).

Many pilgrims carried umbrellas for protection from the burning sun, and in Mina, charities handed out cold water. Cooling stations sprayed pilgrims with water to cool them down. The faithful set up in their tents, resting and praying together to prepare for the coming rituals.

After Saturday’s warship in Arafat, pilgrims travel a few kilometers (miles) to a site known as Muzdalifa, to collect pebbles to use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.

Pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday, when financially able Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor. Afterward, they return to Mecca for a final circumambulation.

In recent years, the annual pilgrimage has returned to its monumental scale after three years of heavy restrictions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. In 2023, more than 1.8 million pilgrims performed the Hajj, approaching the 2019 level, when more than 2.4 million participated.

Associated Press journalist Wafaa Shruafa in Gaza Strip contributed to this report.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Tents for Muslim pilgrims fill the Mina tent camp as Muslim pilgrims arrive during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Tents for Muslim pilgrims fill the Mina tent camp as Muslim pilgrims arrive during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Muslim pilgrims arrive at the Mina tent camp during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Muslim pilgrims arrive at the Mina tent camp during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban, right, sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The couple had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year, but like all Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip's southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban, right, sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The couple had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year, but like all Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip's southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024 in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The couple had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year, but like all Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip's southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Ibrahim Abu Shaaban sits with his wife in their tent on Thursday, June 13, 2024 in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The couple had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year, but like all Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip's southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Abdel Haleem Abu Mutlaq, and his wife Amna Abu Mutlaq, pose for a portrait in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. "We are deprived of (performing) Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of the raging wars and destruction," said Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman from Gaza's southern city of Khan Younis who had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Abdel Haleem Abu Mutlaq, and his wife Amna Abu Mutlaq, pose for a portrait in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. "We are deprived of (performing) Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of the raging wars and destruction," said Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman from Gaza's southern city of Khan Younis who had planned to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Two blind pilgrims preform Hajj with the help of their guide outside of the Grand Mosque during the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Baraa Anwer)

Two blind pilgrims preform Hajj with the help of their guide outside of the Grand Mosque during the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Baraa Anwer)

A woman holds an umbrella to protect herself from the sun as she leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A woman holds an umbrella to protect herself from the sun as she leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A pilgrim covers his head with a praying mat to protect himself from the sun as he leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A pilgrim covers his head with a praying mat to protect himself from the sun as he leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Donald Trump's campaign chiefs designed the Republican convention opening this week to feature a softer and more optimistic message, focusing on themes that would help a divisive leader expand his appeal among moderate voters and people of color.

Then came the shooting that rattled the foundation of American politics.

Suddenly, the Democrats’ turmoil after the debate, the GOP’s potential governing agenda and even Trump’s criminal convictions became secondary to concerns about political violence and the country's stability. The presumptive Republican nominee and his allies will face the nation during their four-day convention in Milwaukee unquestionably united and ready to “fight,” as the bloodied Trump cried out Saturday while Secret Service agents at his Pennsylvania rally rushed him to safety.

Anger and anxiety are coursing through the party, even as many top Republicans call for calm and a lowering of tensions.

Vivek Ramaswamy, who ran in the GOP presidential primary, has distinguished himself as one of the more aggressive voices on the right, saying often that the country is already at war with itself. So it was notable that in remarks at an event run by the conservative Heritage Institute at the RNC on Monday he was toning down his rhetoric and urging the country to come together.

“The enemy is not the Democrats, it is an ideology,” Ramaswamy told the crowd at Heritage’s “Policy Fest” event.

GOP Sen. Steve Daines, the chair of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, said at a Politico event at the RNC on Monday that the party needs to focus on policy and not divisive politics in the aftermath of Saturday’s shooting.

“This is a moment, as we say, that the temperature needs to be brought down,” the Montana lawmaker said. “What needs to be litigated for the American people in the next three and a half months should be more policy and not personalities.”

On Monday, hours before the first convention session, some well-timed good news for Trump got the day off to a positive start for him and his party. The federal judge presiding over Trump's classified documents case dismissed the prosecution because of concerns over the appointment of the prosecutor who brought the case, handing the former president a major court victory.

Trump posted on his Truth Social platform to call for the dismissal of his other legal cases.

“As we move forward in Uniting our Nation after the horrific events on Saturday, this dismissal of the Lawless Indictment in Florida should be just the first step, followed quickly by the dismissal of ALL the Witch Hunts,” he wrote, listing several cases.

Meanwhile, Trump is expected to announce his vice presidential pick on the first day of the Republican National Convention, he said in an interview.

It remains unclear whether the shooting Saturday at his Pennsylvania rally has changed the former president’s thinking about his potential second-in-command. But he told Fox News Channel host Bret Baier in a call that he planned to make his pick Monday.

In an interview Sunday, Republican Party chairman Michael Whatley said the convention’s programming wouldn't be changed after the shooting. The agenda, he said, will feature more than 100 speakers overwhelmingly focused on kitchen table issues and Trump’s plans to lift everyday working Americans.

“We have to be able to lay out a vision for where we want to take this country," he said.

Whatley said the central message would have little to do with President Joe Biden’s political struggles, Trump’s grievances about the 2020 election or the ex-president’s promises to exact retribution against political enemies.

“We are going to have the convention that we have been planning for the last 18 months," he said. "We are a combination of relieved and grateful that the president is going to be here and is going to accept the nomination.”

Beyond voting to formally give Trump the nomination, elected delegates from across the nation will update the GOP’s policy platform for the first time since 2016. The scaled-down platform proposal — just 16 pages with limited specifics on key issues, including abortion — reflects a desire by the Trump campaign to avoid giving Democrats more material on a key campaign issue.

The platform approved by a committee last week doesn't include an explicit call for a national abortion ban, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended a federally guaranteed right to abortion.

“More divisiveness would not be healthy,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

As Trump prepares to announce his choice for vice president, his top three contenders are North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Ohio Sen. JD Vance and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, all expected to speak this week.

Despite a contentious primary season, any lingering tensions appear to have been set aside.

Former rivals Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, are expected to speak at the convention on Trump’s behalf.

There will be reminders of Trump’s record in a speaking program that includes a handful of Republicans charged with crimes related to other political violence — the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who's in jail on contempt of Congress charges, is expected to speak at the convention just hours after his release. He was found guilty in September after refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Capitol attack.

Nevada GOP Chair Michael McDonald, who was indicted of criminal charges related to his involvement in a scheme to present fake electors who would overturn Biden's victory over Trump, plans to present the former president with the party nomination at the convention. A judge dismissed the case against McDonald last month over a venue dispute.

Trump has repeatedly cast the people involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including his many supporters who stormed the Capitol, as political prisoners.

For now, Democrats have scaled back their plans to offer a competing message during the Republican convention.

The Biden campaign over the weekend pulled down its campaign ads. Vice President Kamala Harris postponed a Tuesday appearance in Florida set to focus on Trump’s opposition to abortion rights. And the pro-Democratic group American Bridge is delaying the scheduled Monday release of faux trading cards designed to highlight controversial policy positions of Trump and other leading Republicans.

The convention, coming less than four months before Election Day, is taking place in heavily Democratic Milwaukee, the largest city in a pivotal swing state Trump lost by less than 1 percentage point four years ago.

Even before the assassination attempt, major protests were expected, although movement will be severely restricted as part of enhanced security precautions established by the Secret Service.

Still, the risk of violent confrontation exists.

Security officials previously announced that people just outside the Secret Service perimeter would be allowed to carry guns openly or concealed as permitted by state law. Wisconsin statutes outlaw only machine guns, short-barreled shotguns and silencers.

Associated Press writer Christine Fernando reported from Chicago. AP writers Thomas Beaumont in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, and Ali Swenson in Minneapolis contributed.

A worker carries a chair during perperations for the Republican National Convention Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

A worker carries a chair during perperations for the Republican National Convention Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Law enforcement officers stand in an aisle at the 2024 Republican National Convention inside the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Law enforcement officers stand in an aisle at the 2024 Republican National Convention inside the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

An exterior general view at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

An exterior general view at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala. is seen during the Republican National Convention Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala. is seen during the Republican National Convention Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A color guard comprised of veterans rehearses ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A color guard comprised of veterans rehearses ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Recommended Articles