Saudi king hurts back, hands hajj duties to deputy

The Saudi king on Saturday transferred his traditional supervisory duties of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to his deputy prime minister after rupturing a disc in his back.

King Abdullah normally heads the committee charged with ensuring the smooth operation of the hajj, the largest annual gathering in the world. But a statement released by the Royal Court said the 86-year-old monarch herniated a disc in his back and Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz will take over the supervisory role.

The statement did not say how the king's injury occurred.

More than 2 million people attend the hajj every year. Many Muslims from around the world wait a lifetime for a chance to make the spiritual journey in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad and Abraham, whom Muslims view as a forefather of Islam. For believers, it is an opportunity to cleanse one's sins before God.

It is also a logistical nightmare. Over four days, the population of a small city moves by car, bus and foot between Mecca and several holy sites in the desert nearby, each day performing a different rite all at the same time.