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Muslim pilgrims were gathering at Mount Arafat — a granite hill about 20 kilometres from the Kaaba on the Arafat plains — on Friday to participate in the most important ritual of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The Day of Arafat marks the second day of Hajj, when believers make their way to the mountain where the Prophet Mohammed gave his last sermon.
Pilgrims will make their way to the Masjid Nimrah on the grounds of Arafat where they will listen to the Arafat sermon.
“I am here in Arafat to follow the steps of the Prophet Mohammed when he did his farewell Hajj speech,” Hussein Ali, an Iraqi pilgrim said. "It is very emotional for me just to be here and look at the mountain he climbed."
The Arafat sermon this year will feature a live translation in 14 languages as Saudi Arabia’s leadership seeks to convey a message of moderation and tolerance to the widest possible audience.
However, some pilgrims feel the daily sermons provided could be more inclusive. Othman Khamis, a pilgrim from Tanzania, said: “The sermons interpretations should be improved. Only two languages are so far available, Hindi and Urdu.
"I would have preferred English too, since many pilgrims would have benefited."
After the sermon, Hajj pilgrims will then spend the afternoon praying on the mountain. They will then head to Muzdalifah after sunset, where they will be pick up pebbles for the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual on Saturday.
“I hope my Hajj is accepted, that is my prayer,” Salma Askari, an Indian pilgrim told The National.
Ms Askari is performing Hajj for the first time and is travelling with her husband from Jeddah, where she lives. She arrived in Mina on Wednesday night, as the air-conditioned tents were filling up with Hajj pilgrims and authorities had arranged for gifts and refreshments for each in their rooms.
“We are moving now towards Arafat and will stay at a camp in Arafat. We were told by the Ministry of Hajj that we can start moving tonight or tomorrow at 11am,” Abbas, a pilgrim in Mina, told The National.
Saleh, a Hajj guide and volunteer: “We are going to spend the night in Arafat up until sunset before we move to Muzdalifah. Some of the Hujjaj [pilgrims] will arrive before noon tomorrow."
For many, this year's Hajj is an emotional one, after two years of being barred from performing the ritual due to the Covid-19 pandemic and for those who are performing Hajj in the name of loved ones they have lost.
“Arafat is peaceful and perfect for the recovery from my breakdown I suffered two months ago when my wife of 33 years passed away,” Ismail Al Kaabi, a UAE pilgrim, told The National. I am also dedicating my Arafat visit to her memory. She never made it here."
Pilgrims started boarding the train to Arafat early on Friday after dawn prayers.
"Every group has a guide with them to ensure they stay together based on the country they are from. We are making sure there is no overcrowding and safe for pilgrims to reach their destination,” one Hajj guide said.
This year’s pilgrims were capped at one million, including 850,000 from abroad chosen by lottery. They represent the largest Hajj gathering since 2019 after two Covid-hit years when only tens of thousands were allowed to take part.
“Tomorrow is the main day — the youm (day) of Arafat, we are just resting today, praying here and tomorrow we will head to Arafat and come back early morning on Saturday from Muzdalifah to go to the Jamarat,” Ms Maliha, a local pilgrim performing Hajj, told The National.
This year’s Arafat sermon will be delivered by the head of the Makkah-based Muslim World League, Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al Issa.
Mr Al Issa was Saudi Arabia’s minister of justice before he was appointed to lead the Muslim World League. He is also a member of the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia.
Mr Al Issa led a historic high delegation interfaith visit of Muslim religious leaders in 2020 to the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
During his visit to Auschwitz, Mr Al Issa said Islamic principles denounce all forms of violence and crime.
“Islamic principles are not double-standard,” he said.
“It condemns and denounces every crime and every evil. We are advocates for peace. We believe in peace.
“This high-level delegation of Muslim scholars from different countries and from different sects has come to say that our religion is one of peace, one of mercy and one which fights evil.”