Hajj 2016 : 1.5 millions Muslims converge to Mount Arafat

Hajj 2016 : 1.5 millions Muslims converge to Mount Arafat

MOUNT ARAFAT: (APP) Close to 1.5 million Muslims from around the world converged on a rocky hill known as Mount Arafat on Saturday night to prepare for the climax of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The pilgrims will mark Sunday with day-long prayers and recitals of the Holy Quran at the spot in western Saudi Arabia where Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) gave his last Hajj sermon.

After preliminary rituals this week in Makkah at the Grand Mosque, the pilgrims moved east Saturday to the tent city of Mina and then several kilometres (miles) further to Mount Arafat.

They are following in the footsteps of the Prophet (PBUH), who performed the same rituals about 1,400 years ago.

"It's marvellous. I'm here closer to God. It's an indescribable feeling," said an Egyptian pilgrim, who gave her name only as Louza, 45.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which capable Muslims must perform at least once, marking the spiritual peak of their lives.

"People come from every country of the world, talk every language of the world, and meet here in one place under one banner, the profession of the Muslim faith," Ashraf Zalat, 43, from Egypt, said in Makkah.

Okaz newspaper reported that, for the first time in 35 years, Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia's top cleric, will not deliver a sermon to the Arafat crowd on Sunday.

The paper cited health reasons for the absence of the grand mufti.

After Makkah, Mina becomes the pilgrims' base, where an expanse of solidly built white fireproof tents can accommodate 2.6 million people in a valley beneath bare mountains.

Last September 24, Mina was the scene of the deadliest disaster in Hajj history, when the stampede broke out as pilgrims made their way to the Jamarat Bridge for a stoning ritual.

This year's "Stoning of the Devil" will start on Monday. The Saudi government has taken a number of safety measures this year.

Among the changes, government facilities have been moved out of Mina to free up space, and roads in the Jamarat area expanded, Saudi newspapers reported.

Officials have also been issuing pilgrims with bracelets that digitally store their personal data.

Authorities aim to give bracelets to each of the 1.3 million faithful from abroad, who are joined by more than 100,000 Muslims residing in Saudi Arabia.

Interior ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki spoke of "great efforts being exerted by the kingdom, not only in maintaining the security and safety of the pilgrims, but in facilitating performance" of the rites in comfort.

Pilgrims appeared satisfied.

"Everything is well organised," Nasser Benfitah, 54, from Morocco, said in Makkah.

"We feel safe," added Nigerian pilgrim Hafsa Amina, 26.

Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars in Hajj infrastructure and safety projects over the years.

The Hajj draws rich and poor, whose common humanity is emphasized by the white garment that each man wears. Women wear loose dresses, typically also white.