Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Arafat in Haj climax

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Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Arafat in Haj climax

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A Muslim pilgrim prays at Mount of Mercy on the plain of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia June 15, 2024. — Reuters pic

MOUNT ARAFAT, June 15 — More than 1.5 million Muslims will pray on Mount Arafat in soaring temperatures on Saturday, in the high-point and most gruelling day of the annual Haj pilgrimage.

Worshippers from all over the world will climb the rocky, 70-metre (230-feet) hill, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammed is believed to have given his last sermon.

The desert summer heat is expected to hit 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 degrees Fahrenheit), creating challenges especially among the elderly during a day of prayer and reciting the Koran.

The Haj, which takes at least five days to complete and is mostly outdoors, “is not easy because it is very hot”, said Abraman Hawa, 26, from Ghana.

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“We have sun... but it is not as hot. But I will pray to Allah at Arafat, because I need his support,” she added.

Saudi authorities have urged pilgrims to drink plenty of water and protect themselves from the sun. Since men are prohibited from wearing hats, many carry umbrellas.

More than 10,000 heat-related illnesses were recorded last year, 10 per cent of them heat stroke, a Saudi official told AFP this week.

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The Haj, one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings, is increasingly affected by climate change, according to a Saudi study that said regional temperatures were rising 0.4C each decade.

But Mohammed Farouk, a 60-year-old Pakistani pilgrim, was not put off by the Gulf kingdom’s scorching summer sun.

The Haj is “very important for me as a Muslim”, he said.

Muslim pilgrims gather at Mount of Mercy on the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 15, 2024. — Reuters pic

Muslim pilgrims gather at Mount of Mercy on the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 15, 2024. — Reuters pic

Financial windfall

The enormous crowds of worshippers spent the night in a giant tented city in Mina, a valley several kilometres outside Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.

Many of them were tightly packed in the air-conditioned tents, lying close together on narrow mattresses.

They were grouped by nationality and price, depending on how much they had paid for their Haj packages — usually several thousand dollars.

After Arafat they will head to Muzdalifah, where they will collect pebbles to carry out the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ritual in Mina on Sunday.

The Haj is said to follow the path of the Prophet Muhammed’s final pilgrimage, about 1,400 years ago.

It is an important source of legitimacy for the Al Saud dynasty, whose monarch has the title “guardian of the two holy mosques”, in Mecca and Medina.

Muslim pilgrims gather at Mount of Mercy on the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 15, 2024. — Reuters pic

Muslim pilgrims gather at Mount of Mercy on the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 15, 2024. — Reuters pic

It is also a major financial windfall for the conservative country, which is trying to develop religious tourism as part of a drive to reduce its dependence on crude oil.

The kingdom received more than 1.8 million pilgrims last year for the Haj, around 90 per cent of whom came from abroad.

It also welcomed 13.5 million Muslims who came to perform Umrah, the small pilgrimage that can be done all year round, and aims to reach 30 million by 2030.

This year’s Haj takes place in the shadow of the Gaza war, after eight months of bloodshed that is an open wound for many in the Muslim world. — AFP

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