1.5m perform hajj
Afp, Saudi Arabia
Helicopters hovered overhead and thousands of troops stood guard to organise roads flooded with men, women and children.
Chanting “Labaik Allahum Labaik” (I am responding to your call, God), many of them camped in small colourful tents and took shelter under trees to escape temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius.
Special sprinklers were set up to help cool the pilgrims.
In his annual sermon, top Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh urged Muslims to avoid divisions, chaos and sectarianism.
“Your nation is a trust with you. You must safeguard its security, stability and resources,” the cleric, who heads Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, said in an address to the Muslim world.
“You should know that you are targeted by your enemy… who wants to spread chaos among you … It’s time to confront this.”
He recalled the Islamic prohibition of killing and aggression, while insisting there is “no salvation or happiness for the Muslim nation without adhering to the teachings of the religion.”
Attendance is sharply down from last year, due to fears linked to the MERS virus and to multi-billion-dollar expansion work at the Grand Mosque to almost double its capacity to around 2.2 million worshippers.
Governor of Makkah province and head of the central hajj committee Prince Khaled al-Faisal said 1.38 million pilgrims had arrived from outside of the kingdom while ony 117,000 hajj permits were issued for domestic pilgrims.
The pilgrims arrived at Arafat from nearby Mina where most of them spent the night following the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed, who performed the rituals 14 centuries ago.
They had moved to Mina on Sunday from the holy city of Makkah, home to the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest place of worship, which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba towards which all Muslims pray five times daily.
On reaching Arafat, they crowded onto the hill and the vast plain surrounding it to pray until sunset, when they are due to set off for Muzdalifah for a ritual yesterday symbolising the stoning of the devil.