Haj reaches its peak at Arafat

khaleejtimes.com, 15-11-2010 18:05:59

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ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia — An estimated two million Muslims descended from Mount Arafat on Monday, concluding the highlight of the Haj and beginning their trip back to Mecca to finish the annual pilgrimage.



White-robed pilgrims struggled after sunset to track back from Arafat, site of the Prophet Mohammed’s (Pbuh) last sermon, to their first stop in Muzdalifah, while buses bursting with pilgrims stood at a standstill amid huge crowds of people.

On Tuesday, the Eid al-Adha or Feast of Sacrifice, pilgrims perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil” at Mina, a ritual marked in the past by deadly stampedes before the Saudi authorities expanded the site to several levels.

Pilgrims had converged on Mount Arafat and its surrounding plain from early on Monday morning.

Chanting the Talbiyah — “O God, here we come, answering your call” — they set off before dawn aiming to reach the top of the hill that dominates the plain of Arafat.

Those who managed to jostle their way through the heaving humanity to the top of the hill, which is also known as Jabal al-Rahma or the Mount of Mercy, sat on the rocks to recite Koranic verses and pray.

Some used mobile phones to take pictures as others lay on straw mats spread on the ground.

“My feeling cannot be described,” said Syrian pilgrim Mossaad Mheymeed as he stood at the summit of Mount Arafat. “I feel it is already Judgment Day.”

“Thank God for this grace,” added his companion Hussein al-Alawi, 55, also from Syria.

The granite hill, rising some 60 metres (200 feet) from the plain and no more than 200 metres (218 yards) long and of similar width, is topped with a four-metre pillar said to represent the spot where the Prophet delivered his final Haj sermon.

Pilgrims vied to touch the white cement structure, some crying, although the pillar, its lower section darkened through human contact, is not meant to have religious significance.

On the plain below, movement came to a virtual standstill because of the sheer numbers of people.

Buses stood four lanes deep as they competed for use of the road with pedestrians, who crammed the narrow spaces between the idling vehicles in an effort to keep making headway.

At one edge of the plain, a group of women in wheelchairs and children in strollers was surrounded by pilgrims heading in all directions.

At noon, pilgrims filled the Namera Mosque and the nearby streets and camps for collective prayer, dressing one of Arafat’s main wide streets in white for a length of at least of three kilometres (two miles).

Pilgrims climbed atop kiosks and even public toilet blocks when they could not find an empty space on the ground on which to perform the prayer.

The prayer over, many worshippers were seen stumbling against others as the crowds moved off in opposite directions.

The gathering at the plain of Arafat symbolises the climax of the Haj pilgrimage which began on Sunday with more than two million pilgrims flowing from the neighbouring Muslim holy city of Mecca or directly into Mina, a tent city that comes to life only during the five-day pilgrimage.

There were no immediate reports of major incidents as security officials focused on crowd control.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said on Wednesday he could not rule out the possibility of Al-Qaeda trying to sabotage the pilgrimage.

But Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said in an online statement on Sunday that it was against targeting the Haj.

“We assure our Islamic nation that we are against any criminal action aimed at the pilgrims,” it said.

Prince Nayef on Sunday put the number of pilgrims from abroad at a record 1.8 million. Some 200,000 permits were also given to local pilgrims, including Saudis and pilgrims from Gulf states.

But by Sunday tens of thousands of unauthorised pilgrims had also poured into the valley, skirting their way around highway checkpoints trying to enforce a “No permit, No Haj” rule.

At the foot of Mount Arafat on Monday, the Jabal al-Rahma Hospital teemed with sick pilgrims affected by the heat and fatigue.

“I have blood pressure problems and diabetes problems,” said Abdul Saboor Hassanain, a retired Egyptian, as he left the hospital with pills in hand.

“God willing I will continue the Haj,” he added.


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