MOUNT ARAFAT: Nearly 2.5 million Haj pilgrims converged on Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, marshalled by tens of thousands of stewards in a bid to prevent stampedes.
Movable crowd control barriers were erected all around the foot of the rocky hill outside Makkah known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy, where the faithful arrived on foot and in a seemingly endless line of buses.
Raising their palms skywards, the pilgrims set off on the climb to the summit where they held prayers to atone for their sins in a ritual that is regarded as the high point of Haj.
“Really, I am very satisfied,” said Lassina Coulibaly, a 47-year-old Malian business employee. “Fatigue is part of the pilgrimage,” added the father of seven.
Clutching brightly coloured umbrellas, pilgrims first braved the blazing sun and then heavy downpours that many welcomed as a blessing. Some burst into tears as they chanted prayers.
Thousands of faithful had spent the night under the stars, sleeping on prayer rugs or pieces of cardboard.
The faithful urged to shower mercy on everyone
Trucks were parked at regular intervals on the route leading up to the hill, distributing bottles of water and meals.
Helicopters criss-crossed overhead, part of the tight security precautions taken by the pilgrimage’s Saudi hosts.
Pilgrims travelling from abroad account for 1.86m of the 2.48m taking part in this year’s Haj, according to official figures.
The oldest pilgrim this year is 103-year-old Noah Lanai from Thailand, according to Saudi Arabia’s state-run media. The woman came to Saudi Arabia with her son and was quoted in local media as saying she’d long dreamt of performing the Haj and praying in Makkah.
The scale of the pilgrimage presents vast administrative and logistical challenges, with tens of thousands of security officers deployed.
This year’s Haj is taking place against a backdrop of tensions in the Gulf following a series of attacks on oil tankers, the downing of drones and the seizure of ships. But Saudi authorities have been at pains to stress that the Haj is a religious event and have sought to prevent its politicisation.
In the sermon he delivered at Masjid-i-Nimrah, well-known Saudi scholar Sheikh Muhammad bin Hassan Al-Sheikh focused on the concept of mercy and compassion.
Quoting verses from the Quran and the sayings of Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he said it is with the mercy of Allah that the bounties descend.
“Among the aspects of Allah’s mercy is that He made Islam the perfect religion. Islam is based on five pillars ... and these pillars are behind descent of Allah’s Rahmah (mercy),” he said.
Sheikh Muhammad Al-Sheikh urged Muslims across the world to shower mercy on all and treat everyone with compassion.
He praised the great efforts made by security personnel and volunteers in treating the pilgrims kindly, which he described as one of the aspects of mercy that was displayed frequently during Haj.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2019