Pilgrims throng Mount Arafat for peak of hajj

Mount Arafat (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) – Their palms facing the sky, around two million Muslims gathered Thursday on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat for the highlight of the hajj pilgrimage, one of the world’s largest annual gatherings.

With temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) under the desert sun, the faithful climbed the hill east of Mecca where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed gave his last sermon some 14 centuries ago.

They gathered in prayer on Jabal al-Rahma, or Mount of Mercy, for the second day of the hajj — a five-day pilgrimage which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetime if physically and financially able.

Nada and Fida, two sisters from Syria, said they had dedicated their prayers to their home country, where more than 330,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since its civil war broke out in 2011.

“I want Syria to go back to the way it was before,” said Nada, 52.

“And for our youth to come back home,” added her 47-year-old sister.

At sunset, a sea of pilgrims clad in white made their way down the hill and headed to Muzdalifa to spend the night.

On Friday, they will move on to Mina before sunrise for the hajj ritual of the symbolic “Stoning of the Devil”.

This year’s hajj has seen the return of pilgrims from Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran following a diplomatic row and a deadly stampede in 2015.

But thousands who would normally make the journey from neighbouring Qatar are absent apart from a few dozen because of a diplomatic crisis shaking the Gulf.

– All eyes on Mina –

“I came up here last night and prayed, took pictures and called my family and friends,” said Maolana Yahia, 32, who made the trip from Indonesia.

Tunisian mother-of-three Fatima Arfawi said she was moved beyond words during the prayers on Mount Arafat.

“This is the first time I see anything like this, ever,” she said. “This day is dedicated to prayer for my three children and my family.”

In a hospital opposite the mountain, an area was set aside for people suffering dehydration or heat exhaustion.

Saudi Arabia’s Red Crescent said it had deployed 326 ambulances along the pilgrimage route to handle health emergencies.

“Some pilgrims, for example, forget to protect their heads with an umbrella when they pray,” said Bandar al-Harthi, a nurse at a hospital facing Mount Arafat.

On Friday, the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday, all eyes will be on the Jamarat Bridge in Mina, where the stoning ritual is held.

It was the scene of the 2015 stampede…

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