Pilgrims pray atop Mount Arafat in Hajj climax

AFP June 16, 2024
One million pilgrims from across the globe amassed on Thursday in the holy city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia to perform the initial rites of the Hajj. PHOTO: AFP


Vast crowds of pilgrims gathered for hours under the hot sun atop Mount Arafat on Saturday for the high point of Hajj, offering prayers including for Palestinians in war-ravaged Gaza.

Clad in white, worshippers began arriving at dawn for the most gruelling day of the annual pilgrimage, climbing the rocky, 70-metre (230-foot) hill.

The temperature on Mount Arafat hit 46 degrees Celsius, the spokesman for the national meteorology centre said on X, creating taxing conditions for pilgrims who had spent the night in a giant tented city in Mina.

“This is the most important day,” said 46-year-old Egyptian Mohammed Asser, who came prepared with a list of prayers. “I pray also for the Palestinians. May God help them.”

Some 1.8 million pilgrims have participated in this year’s Hajj, the state-affiliated Al-Ekhbariya channel reported on Saturday, roughly the same as last year’s total.

This year the pilgrimage has unfolded in the shadow of the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, which was triggered by the Palestinian militants’ unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7.

Some 2,000 Palestinians are performing the Hajj at the special invitation of Saudi King Salman, official media said.

The Hajj, one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings, is increasingly affected by climate change, according to a Saudi study published last month that said regional temperatures were rising 0.4 degrees Celsius each decade.

Saudi authorities have urged pilgrims to drink plenty of water and protect themselves from the sun during the rituals, which take at least five days to complete and are mostly outdoors. Since men are prohibited from wearing hats, many carry umbrellas.

More than 10,000 heat-related illnesses were recorded last year, 10 percent of them heat stroke, a Saudi official told AFP this week.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims with the means must perform it at least once. Yet visas, doled out to individual countries on a quota system, can be difficult to obtain.

Along with last year’s 1.8 million hajj pilgrims, the kingdom also welcomed 13.5 million Muslims who came to perform umrah, the pilgrimage which can be done year-round.

The goal is to reach 30 million pilgrims in total by 2030. 



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