MOUNT ARAFAT: Huge crowds of pilgrims started praying on Mount Arafat early Friday, the high point of the biggest Hajj pilgrimage since the pandemic forced drastic cuts in numbers for two years in a row.
The worshippers, capped at one million including 850,000 from abroad chosen by lottery, spent the night at camps in the valley of Mina, seven kilometres (four miles) from Makkah's Grand Mosque.
In the early hours of Friday, they converged on Mount Arafat, where the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) delivered his final sermon, for the most important of the Hajj rituals.
Dr Al Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al Issa will deliver the sermon today.
They will stay all day at the site, praying and reciting the Holy Quran.
After sunset, they will head to Muzdalifah, half-way between Arafat and Mina, where they will sleep under the stars before performing the symbolic "stoning of the devil" ceremony on Saturday.
This year’s Hajj is taking place against the backdrop of a resurgence of COVID-19 in the region, with some Gulf countries tightening restrictions to keep outbreaks in check.
All participants were required to submit proof of full vaccination and negative PCR tests. Upon reaching Mina on Thursday, they were handed small bags containing masks and sanitiser.
The Hajj, usually one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings, is among the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.
In 2019, some 2.5 million Muslims from around the world took part, as in previous years.
But the coronavirus outbreak has since forced Saudi authorities to dramatically downsize the Hajj. Just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom participated in 2021, up from a few thousand in 2020.
"We can tolerate (the heat). We are here for the Hajj. The more we tolerate, the more our pilgrimage is accepted," Laila, a 64-year-old Iraqi pilgrim who gave only her first name, told AFP in Makkah before reaching the mount.
Saudi officials have touted their preparations for the extreme conditions, highlighting the hundreds of hospital beds allocated for heat stroke patients and the "large number of misting fans" they have provided.
A truck has also been allocated to distribute umbrellas, water bottles and small fans.
Nevertheless, the National Centre for Meteorology, which has set up an office in Mina, is sending warnings to pilgrims on their mobile phones, urging them to avoid outdoor rituals at certain times of the day, especially at noon.
On Saturday, pilgrims will take part in the "stoning", the last major ritual of this year’s Hajj.
PM prays for Ummah’s unity, Pakistan’s prosperity
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Friday felicitated the pilgrims of Hajj-e-Akbar and prayed for the blessings of Allah Almighty upon the Muslim Ummah and Pakistan.
In a message, he appealed to the fortunate pilgrims performing the Hajj-e-Akbar to offer special prayers for humanity.
PM Sharif said it was a blessed occasion to pray for the prosperity of mankind and its deliverance from epidemics and diseases.
He prayed to Allah Almighty for the freedom of the occupied Palestine and Kashmir.
“May Allah Almighty bring Pakistan out of its debt situation with the blessings of Hajj-e-Akbar and grant us economic self-reliance,” he said.
He also urged the nation to offer special prayers for the elevation of the ranks of the martyrs.
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