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ARAFAT, Feb 21: More than 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world, including more than 122,000 Pakistanis, performed Haj on Thursday.

After offering Fajr prayers at Mina, the pilgrims proceeded to the plains of Arafat for the “Waquf”, the main rite of the Haj.

The faithful arrived by foot, in buses and in small vehicles and pick-ups from Mina, 12 kilometres away, where they had started the pilgrimage rites on Wednesday.

Under a scorching sun, men clad in a two-piece seamless white cloth and women covered except for the hands and face gathered at the site where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had delivered his last sermon 14 centuries ago.

“Here I am Allah, answering Your call; there is no God but You,” they chanted.

As the temperature soared above 30 degrees Celsius, thousands of sprinklers sprayed a fine mist to cool off the pilgrims, and authorities distributed free packs of water, juice and fruits among them.

The Hujjaj offered combined Zuhr and Asr prayers at the Nimra Mosque, and listened to the Haj sermon.

In the sermon, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, denounced Israel’s terrorism against the Palestinians.

“This is injustice, aggression and terrorism,” said Sheikh Abdul Aziz before going on to strongly defend Islam against charges of terrorism made in the West in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

“It is unfair to associate Islam with terrorism,” Sheikh Abdul Aziz said, urging the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims to close ranks and defend their faith against the “enemies of Islam.”

“How can terrorism be linked to a religion which orders respect for human life ... (a religion which advocates) justice and promotes peace rather than war?” he asked.

Special prayers were offered for the unity of the Ummah, supremacy of Islam and liberation of all occupied Muslim lands.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz had earlier reminded pilgrims that demonstrations and political slogans were forbidden during the Haj.

Clutching the holy Quran or other prayer books, the pilgrims, mostly gathered in huge tent camp sites around Mount Arafat, invoked Allah in a deeply spiritual atmosphere.

A large number of pilgrims also visited Jabl-i-Rehmat. They sought Allah’s blessings and forgiveness.

After sunset, the pilgrims proceeded to Muzdalifa, where they combined Maghrib and Isha prayers. Here they will spend the night praying to Allah and collecting small stones for the stoning of Satan ritual.

On Friday, the first day of Eid al-Azha, the pilgrims will return to Mina to sacrifice animals and stone three pillars symbolizing Satan — a ritual they will repeat on Saturday and Sunday.

Saudi authorities said the first day of the Haj, which started on Wednesday, was completed without any major incidents. Pilgrims spent the night in 44,000 airconditioned and fireproof tents.— Agencies