Muslim pilgrims scale Mount Arafat for peak of hajj

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MOUNT ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia, Aug 20, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – A sea of pilgrims
ascended Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia on Monday to pray and repent, the
climax of the annual hajj bringing together more than two million Muslims
from around the world.

Carrying brightly coloured umbrellas under the blazing sun, worshippers
scaled the rocky hill southeast of the holy city of Mecca to atone for their
sins.

Arms raised, pilgrims repeated “There is no God but Allah” and “Allahu
Akbar” (God is greatest).

“The feeling is indescribable,” said Umm Ahmad, 61, who made the journey
from Egypt.

Nearly 2.4 million Muslims made the trip to western Saudi Arabia, home to
Islam’s holiest sites, according to the kingdom’s statistics authority.

Some of the pilgrims — men in white seamless garments and women in loose
dresses — pushed elderly relatives in wheelchairs on the second day of the
hajj, one of the world’s largest annual gatherings.

Jai Saleem, a 37-year-old Pakistani, said he cried when he and his wife
arrived on Mount Arafat, where Muslims believe Prophet Mohammed delivered his
final sermon.

“It feels great,” he said. “I have always seen this area, since my
childhood, in photographs and on television.”

After sunset prayers, pilgrims will make their way down Mount Arafat to
Muzdalifah, another holy site where they will sleep under the stars to
prepare for the final stage of hajj, a symbolic “stoning of the devil”
ritual.

– ‘Closer to Allah’ –

Buses could be seen parked around the hill as workers hurriedly picked up
empty water bottles near a yellow sign that read “Arafat starts here” in both
English and Arabic.

“We know that it’s a difficult task,” said Amna Khan, a 35-year-old
American Muslim pilgrim.

“That’s why we are all here. We’re doing this to get closer to Allah, to
be absolved.” A hot wind blew across the hill, also known as Jabal al-Rahma
(Mount of Mercy), and the surrounding plain after a downpour late Sunday.
Many faithful could be seen sipping from bottles of water throughout the day.

“I knew it would be a little hard to climb Mount Arafat,” said Nigerian
pilgrim Saidou Boureima.

“So I prepared for this challenge by working out. And God willing, we can
see it through.”

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam which every Muslim is
required to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy
enough and have the means to do so.

– Iranian contingent –

The hajj has at times been a point of controversy, following an incident
in 1987 in which Saudi police crushed an Iranian protest during the
pilgrimage against the United States and Israel.

The clashes killed 402 people, including 175 Iranians, according to Saudi
authorities.

Iran boycotted the hajj in 2016, following a deadly stampede the year
before which left some 2,300 dead, hundreds of them Iranian.

Tehran sent its pilgrims to Mecca in 2017, and the hajj this year includes
86,000 Iranians, according to Mecca governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal.

Prince Khaled has also said this year’s hajj includes 300 pilgrims from
Qatar, a neighbouring emirate hit by a major Saudi-led boycott.

Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest exporter of oil — and its allies
accuse Qatar of cosying up to both Sunni Islamist extremists and Shiite Iran,
Riyadh’s main rival.

They have cut all ties with Qatar — which denies the charges — and
banned all flights to and from Doha.

Qatar on Sunday said that its citizens were unable to take part in the hajj
because of the diplomatic dispute.

Muslims on Tuesday observe the first day of Eid al-Adha, or Feast of
Sacrifice, which marks the end of the hajj.

They traditionally slaughter sheep for the three-day Eid al-Adha, a tribute
to the prophet Abraham’s sacrifice of a lamb after God spared Ishmael, his
son.

They will consume some of the meat and give the rest to poor people unable
to buy food.

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