Hajj Reaches Climax As Millions Gather in Arafat 

MAKKAH — More than two million Muslims gathered at Mount Arafat on Monday for a vigil to atone for their sins and ask God’s forgiveness as the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia approached its climax.

Pilgrims clad in white robes signifying a state of purity spent the night in an encampment around the hill where Islam holds that God tested Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ismail. It is also where Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) gave his last sermon.

A sea of worshippers scaled the rocky hill southeast of the holy city of Mecca for a day of prayers and reflection where Muslims believe Prophet delivered his final sermon.

Some of the pilgrims — men in white seamless garments and women in loose dresses — pushed elderly relatives in wheelchairs on the second day of the hajj, one of the world’s largest annual gatherings.

A hot wind blew across the hill, also known as Jabal al-Rahma (Mount of Mercy), and the surrounding plain after a downpour late Sunday. Many faithful could be seen sipping from bottles of water.

After sunset, the pilgrims will leave for nearby Muzdalifah where they will gather pebbles to perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.

The ritual begins in earnest tomorrow as Muslims observe the first day of Eid al-Azha, or Feast of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the hajj.

Muslims traditionally slaughter sheep for the three-day Eid al-Azha, a tribute to the prophet Abraham’s sacrifice of a lamb after God spared Ishmael, his son.

They will consume some of the meat and give the rest to poor people unable to buy food.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.

The pilgrims will spend the day on Mount Arafat. By sunset they will move to the rocky plain of Muzdalifa to gather pebbles to throw at stone columns symbolising the devil at another location called Jamarat on Tuesday, which marks the first day of Eid al-Azha, or the feast of sacrifice.

A new kiswa, the cloth embroidered with verses from the Quran, was placed over the Kaaba in Makkah’s Grand Mosque late on Sunday. Pilgrims will return to pray there at the end of hajj.

Pilgrimage is also the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil. The hajj and year-round umrah generate billions of dollars in revenue from worshippers’ lodging, transport, fees and gifts.

Officials aim to increase the number of umrah and hajj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.

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