Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The hajj occurs once a year during the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar year. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia says more than 1.8 million Muslims from around the world have arrived in the country to take part in the hajj pilgrimage that starts on Friday.

The Director General of Passports, Gen. Suleiman al-Yehya, announced the figure Wednesday, saying close to 970,000 male and 868,000 female pilgrims had arrived to Saudi Arabia for the hajj. In total, more than 2 million people, including Saudis and expatriate residents of the kingdom, are expected to take part this year.

Muslims are required to perform the five-day hajj once in their lifetime. The pilgrimage is meant to draw the faithful closer to God.

The Saudi government has spent billions of dollars to improve the safety of the pilgrimage in recent years, particularly in Mina where the deadliest incidents have occurred.

The tallest clock tower in the world with the world's largest clock face, atop the Abraj Al-Bait Towers, overshadows Muslim pilgrims as they circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. The hajj occurs once a year during the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar year. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The hajj occurs once a year during the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar year. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The hajj occurs once a year during the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar year. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Muslim pilgrims touch the golden door of the the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The hajj occurs once a year during the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar year. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
In this picture taken with slow shutter speed, Muslim pilgrims pray past Maqam Ibrahim or The Station of Abraham, the golden glass structure, center, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have arrived in the kingdom to participate in the annual hajj pilgrimage, which starts Saturday, a ritual required of all able-bodied Muslims at least once in their life. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
The Director General of Passports Maj. Gen. Sulaiman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Yahya, salutes before a press conference in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Sulaiman said as of Wednesday, a total of 1,819,790 hajj pilgrims have arrived to Saudi Arabia through air, land and sea ports, according to statistics issued by the Saudi General Directorate of Passports. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
The Director General of Passports Maj. Gen. Sulaiman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Yahya, speaks at a press conference in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The general said that as of Wednesday, a total of 1,819,790 hajj pilgrims have arrived to Saudi Arabia through air, land and sea ports, according to statistics issued by the Saudi General Directorate of Passports. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Saudi police officers monitor screens displaying the Grand Mosque, at the 911 monitoring center, ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. The hajj occurs once a year during the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar year. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
The tallest clock tower in the world with the world's largest clock face, atop the Abraj Al-Bait Towers, overshadows Muslim pilgrims as they circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
A Muslim pilgrim prays in front of the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. The annual Hajj pilgrimage draws millions of visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)