Pilgrims rejoice as Haj reaches high point on Mount Arafat
Mount Arafat, Saudi Arabia // The Haj reached its high point on Sunday as pilgrims from across the world converged on Mount Arafat for a day of prayer and reading the Quran.
More than 1.8 million gathered from sunrise at the hill about 15 kilometres from Mecca where Prophet Mohammed gave his last sermon about 14 centuries ago after leading his followers on the pilgrimage.
“I have the impression of standing exactly in front of God,” said Khadem Ndyaye, 47, from Senegal.
“Muslims came here from everywhere and we are all the same. If all the world was like that, there wouldn’t be any war. Here, we feel that Islam is a religion of peace.”
A teenage Indian pilgrim, who gave her name only as Janifa, said she had travelled with her parents.
“I truly am lucky, and very grateful,” she said, draped in white under a green parasol.
Another pilgrim from India, Mohammed Arafan, 40, said he felt “chosen by God” for being able to perform the Haj.
“It’s beautiful to see the Muslims of the world pray together here.”
At the midday prayer hundreds of thousands prostrated themselves, men and women side-by-side, in wide alleys that run between prefabricated pilgrim lodgings set up on the vast plain surrounding Mount Arafat.
For the first time in years, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh did not give his traditional Arafat sermon.
The Saudi newspaper Okaz cited health reasons but the grand mufti still attended the sermon given in his place by Abdul Rahman Al Sudais, imam of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
Under multicoloured parasols to protect against the burning sun, the mass of people moved through broad streets which were closed to traffic around Mount Arafat.
Trucks loaded with bottled water were stationed throughout, and ambulances patrolled the area.
Throughout the day the faithful chanted a traditional Haj incantation, “God, here I am.”
After sunset the prilgrims began moving aboard buses to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, to gather 49 pebbles for a symbolic stoning of the devil which begins on Monday, in the last major rite of Haj.
Hundreds of people died during the ritual last year as they were on their way to throw their stones at the Jamarat Bridge.
Authorities launched an investigation into the tragedy and introduced new safety measures for the pilgrimage this year. These include the distribution of a bracelets that store pilgrims’ personal data and the widening of roads in the Jamarat area.
Pilgrims said they felt safe and noticed organisational improvements.
“The Saudis organise everything for us. We are truly at ease here in Arafat,” Youssef Al Mehri, 24, of Oman said with a prayer rug slung over his shoulder.
Helicopters monitored the crowd flow from the skies, while on the ground police on foot, motorbike and all-terrain vehicles directed pedestrian movement.
At the sacred hill itself, police sometimes had to use their bodies to block the flow of pilgrims and avoid bottlenecks.
Crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister and chairman of the Haj committee, was in Mina to help supervise the services being provided to the pilgrims, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
Iranians are not taking part in the pilgrimage after Saudi Arabia and Iran failed to agree on security and logistics in the wake of last year’s stampede, in which Tehran says 464 of its citizens died.
Saudi Arabia on Sunday said it had launched a television channel to cover the pilgrimage in Persian, also know as Farsi, which is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Minister of information and culture Adel Al Turaifi said the 24-hour satellite channel would cover Haj rituals and prayers from the Grand Mosque.
“The channel aims to broadcast the message of the Haj, the eternal meanings of Islam and to show what is being provided by the kingdom” during the pilgrimage, the Saudi Press Agency quoted the minister as saying.
It targets “Persian-language speakers, whose number is estimated at 130 million all over the world”, he said.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: September 12, 2016 04:00 AM