Sunday, November 6, 2011

Haj Reached Peak Today

MOUNT ARAFAT (Saudi Arabia), Nov 5: More than two million Muslims flocked on Saturday to Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat and its surrounding plain, marking the peak day of the Haj.

The pilgrims filled the Namira Mosque in Arafat and the nearby streets and camps for collective prayer, led by Saudi Arabia’s top imam, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh.

“Islam is the solution for the problems” of Muslims, he said in a speech before the prayer began, warning the faithful of “a media and cultural invasion that seeks to weaken (their) faith”.

He urged the Muslims to solve their problems “without interference from their enemies,” condemning those who want to “provoke hostility between you and your leaders”.

There were no immediate reports of major incidents as security officials focused on crowd control.

Many pilgrims went on buses, while others set off on foot from Mina, a tent-village that comes to life only during the five-day pilgrimage.

Others took the Mashair Railway, also known as the Makkah Metro, to go to Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon.

The Chinese-built railway is operating this year at its full capacity of 72,000 people per hour to ease congestion and prevent stampedes in which hundreds have been killed in past years. The dual-track light railway connects the three holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifah and Mount Arafat.

After sunset, pilgrims swarmed to Muzdalifah, half way between Mount Arafat and Mina, to spend the night.

On Sunday, they will return to Mina after Fajr prayers for the first stage of the stoning of the devil and to make the sacrifice of an animal, usually a lamb with the beginning of Eidul Azha.

On the remaining three days of the Haj, the pilgrims continue the stoning before performing the circumambulation of the Kaaba and then heading for home.

More than 1.83 million pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia from abroad, marking a 1.5 per cent increase from last year, said Makkah Governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal.

Several hundred thousand Saudis and foreign residents in the kingdom were also granted permits to join them, he added.

Coping with the world’s largest annual human assembly poses a security challenge for the Saudi authorities. To help prevent chaos, the authorities have numbered buses and tents in Mina and Arafat according to the countries from which the pilgrims have come.

For the first time this year, the Haj is being streamed live on video-sharing website YouTube in cooperation with the Saudi government.—AFP

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