Millions of Muslims flood to Arafat as hajj begins

Millions of Muslims flood to Arafat as hajj begins

MOUNT ARAFAT - Agence France-Presse
Millions of Muslims flood to Arafat as hajj begins

Thousands of Muslim pilgrims flock to Mount Arafat to perform the main hajj rites. Some 1.7 million people had travelled from abroad. AA photo

Vast crowds of Muslim pilgrims flocked to Mount Arafat yesterday to perform the main hajj rites. Men, women, and children from 189 countries streamed from dawn to the site in western Saudi Arabia, some setting up small colorful tents in which they slept and prayed.

 Beggars and street vendors also dotted the roads searching for generous souls among the 2.5 million believers expected to converge on the plain for the most important rituals of the five-day hajj.

According to Mecca governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal, around 1.7 million people had travelled from abroad for the pilgrimage. In the crowds, Syrian worshippers were seen carrying a large rebel flag, a symbol of the 19-months-long deadly uprising against Assad’s regime in which according to activists more than 34,000 people have died. The Syrian government did not send any pilgrims this year, but hajj visas were granted to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

Focus of the rituals is the “Mount of Mercy” where Prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his final hajj sermon before his death. Many pilgrims made themselves comfortable between the huge rocks, tears streaming down their faces as they prayed.

A preacher urged pilgrims not to climb the slippery stone staircase leading up the hill, bellowing over loudspeakers: “Neither the prophet, nor his followers have ever climbed the hill. Please do not climb it.”

Pilgrims have in previous years slipped and fallen while attempting the ascent, and others have been killed in stampedes. After sunset, the pilgrims head to Muzdalifah, between Mina and Arafat, where they collect stones to throw at the devil, one of the last rituals which takes place Friday and marks the first day of Eid al-Adha, or Feast or Sacrifice. During the remaining three days of the hajj, the pilgrims continue the stoning ritual before performing the circumambulation of the Kaaba shrine in Mecca and heading home.

More than 100,000 members of the security and civil defence forces have been deployed  to ensure the safety of the pilgrims, while some 3,000 CCTV cameras have been installed across hajj sites.