Pilgrims Descend Mount after Emotional Haj Climax
By Nadim Ladki
Tired and drained but spiritually fulfilled, the pilgrims trekked down slowly from the mountain as the muezzin at a nearby mosque summoned them to dusk prayers.
Wave after wave of pilgrims in seamless white attire arrived in Muzdalifah, three km (two miles) away, where they were to spend the night before moving to Mena at dawn on Monday to stone a pillar symbolising the devil.
They were also due to slaughter cattle to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.
"I am exhausted physically after such a long day," said Youssef, an Indian pilgrim. "But at the same time I feel at peace and rested like I never have before."
The pilgrims had arrived at Mount Arafat, a barren and rocky plain, by noon. Many carried umbrellas to fend off the sun in temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius (93 Fahrenheit). Sprinklers intermittently sprayed them gently with water.
As they reached Mount Arafat in waves, the crowds joined voices in a crescendo chant of the traditional Haj call: "Here I am, oh God, here I am! Thou art without a partner! Here I am! All praise is for Thee and from Thee are all the blessings! To Thee alone belong power and rule!"
Many were reduced to tears as they climbed to the place where the Prophet Mohammad gave his final sermon 14 centuries ago to declare utter submission to God. Jabal al-Rahmah (Mercy Mount), where Mohammad stood, was flooded with pilgrims.
"I just can't imagine that I am standing where the prophet once stood, that I am gazing at what once the eyes of the prophet saw," said Fatima, a Lebanese pilgrim, sobbing uncontrollably.
Leaving all wealth and material things behind, the pilgrims, wearing seamless clothes as a sign of purity, asked for salvation and forgiveness.
"God forgive me for my sins. Have mercy on me and my family and loved ones," an Egyptian pilgrim prayed out loud, with his hands and face raised to the heavens. "God also grant your nation victory over its enemies."
Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it is obliged to perform the Haj at least once.
The Haj, the "fifth pillar of Islam," taught by Mohammad to his followers 14 centuries ago, symbolises the story of Abraham. Pilgrims seeking repentance, purification and spiritual renewal believe they return home as pure as when they were born.
SMOOTH HAJ SO FAR
The official Saudi Press Agency quoted Mecca governor Prince Abdul Majid as saying the climb to Arafat had been completed in record time and without incidents. The Haj, marred in recent years by tragedies caused by fires and stampedes, has been trouble-free for the last two years.
Saudi Arabia has spent several billion dollars over the past decade to improve the facilities.
Doctor Khaled al-Tayeb of Namirah Hospital on Mount Arafat said a number of pilgrims had suffered mild exhaustion.
Saudi authorities distributed 10 million chilled bottles of mineral water and a million meals to the pilgrims.
Official figures showed that 1.36 million Muslims from 160 countries are taking part in the Haj this year, 96,000 more than last year. The pilgrims from outside are joined by about 500,000 worshippers from inside the kingdom.
King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah were in nearby Mena to supervise the movement of the pilgrims to and from Arafat, the most gruelling leg of the Haj. Leaders from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sudan were among the dignitaries performing the ritual.