MOUNT ARAFAT, Dec 7: Creating a sea of white robes, nearly three million Muslims converged on a rocky desert hill outside Makkah on Sunday to beg God’s forgiveness.

Chants of “at Thy service, my God, at Thy service,’’ reverberated through the valley as the pilgrims stood to pray for God’s forgiveness.

Starting just after dawn, the faithful made their way slowly on foot or by bus onto the hill, also known as the Mount of Mercy, where the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered his last sermon more than 14 centuries ago.

So far no major problems have developed, organisers said, although a record number of pilgrims have come from outside Saudi Arabia.

In a sermon before midday prayers at the Namra mosque, Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said the global financial crisis stemmed from ignoring God’s rules and allowing “riba” (interest). He also called for the Muslim world to unite in the face of terrorism to preserve stability.

“The world must criminalise terrorism... we must be cautious of terrorism and fight hostile criminal gangs that destroy countries and people,” he said.

Pilgrims were scheduled to spend the rest of their day on Mount Arafat praying and beseeching God for his forgiveness, as a symbol of the wait for judgment day.

One of the features of the Haj was a rally held by thousands of Iranians, Lebanese, Iraqis and Bahrainis inside their tents to denounce the US and Israel.

Saudi Arabia had warned before the start of the pilgrimage that it would not tolerate any anti-US demonstrations, but the rally was apparently permitted because it stayed inside.—Agencies

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