Height of the haj: pilgrims pray for salvation

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The Independent Online

Arms aloft, two million Muslims from around the world prayed for salvation yesterday at Mount Arafat on the most important day of the annual Haj pilgrimage.

Arms aloft, two million Muslims from around the world prayed for salvation yesterday at Mount Arafat on the most important day of the annual Haj pilgrimage.

From the break of dawn, tens of thousands of buses ferried pilgrims from a sprawling tent city in the valley of Mina to the hill just outside Mecca. The faithful - the men clad in a white cloth, the women covered except for the hands and face - spent the day praying for forgiveness and beseeching God for success.

Pilgrims held hands out for each other to climb the hill; the many already at the top pushed and shoved to hug a pillar, standing where the Prophet gave his last sermon in the year 632.

The pilgrimage to birthplace of Islam is one of the central religious duties of Muslims. All able-bodied Muslims who can afford to must perform haj at least once in their lifetime.

The haj began in Mecca with the circling of the Kaaba, the large stone structure that Muslims face during their daily prayers. The congregation at Mount Arafat is a day of soul searching and prayer, interpreted as a foretaste of Judgement Day.

Standing on Mount Arafat before sunset is the high point of the haj, and pilgrims who fail to make it on time must repeat their pilgrimage in future.

"I am delighted to be here," said Mohammed Tahrio, a 28-year-old Nigerian, performing the haj for the first time. "I want to pray to Allah to give me a long and wealthy life," he said.

The pilgrims will return to Mecca today, the first day of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). Most will sacrifice an animal, generally a sheep, in remembrance of Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to God.

Tomorrow and again on Saturday they will return to Mina to stone the jamarat , three pillars symbolising the devil, the ultimate but also the most dangerous ritual.

Last year 244 pilgrims died in a stampede during the ritual; a stampede in 1990 killed 1,426 people.

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