More Than A Million Pilgrims Begin Haj

(MENAFN- Gulf Times) More than 1mn Muslim pilgrims packed the giant tented city of Mina near Makkah, Saudi Arabia, Friday for a Haj pilgrimage held in sweltering heat and against the backdrop of the Gaza war.

Pilgrims arrived on buses or on foot, many shaded by umbrellas, at the vast encampment in Mina.

Chanting "God is great" and "God, we answer your call", many were awash with spiritual fervour as they followed in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) final pilgrimage more than 1,400 years ago.

Participants, who numbered 1.5mn by Monday, have travelled from all parts of the world for the annual rites, this year held in intense heat with forecast daily highs of 44C.

"It's very, very hot," said Fahad Azmar, 31, from Pakistan. "But I thank God for the opportunity to be here." They are spending the night at Mina, a rocky valley several kilometres outside Makkah, before climbing Mount Arafat for the pilgrimage's climax Saturday.

Accommodation in Mina's air-conditioned tents is organised by nationality and price, depending on how much each pilgrim paid for their Haj package.

Outside, misting stations were installed to cool the faithful, and security guards splashed passers-by with water.

Most of the Haj is outdoors but Saturday will be particularly testing for the worshippers, when they spend most of the day praying on Mount Arafat.

A text message sent to pilgrims on Thursday instructed them to "drink water regularly, more than two litres daily" and to "always carry an umbrella", warning that temperatures could climb to 48C.

Many pilgrims said they would pray for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, more than eight months into the Israel-Hamas war that has left tens of thousands dead.

Zahra Benizahra, 78, from Morocco could not hold back her tears as she described the "images of war, displaced people, dead children" that haunt her.

"Our brothers are dying, and we can see it with our own eyes," she told AFP.

Belinda Elham of Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, said she would "pray every day so that what's happening in Palestine ends".

Some 2,000 Palestinians are performing the Haj at the special invitation of King Salman, official media said.

The Haj, one of the world's largest religious gatherings, is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once by all Muslims who have the means to do so.

Some have waited for years for the chance to make the trip, with permits allocated by Saudi authorities on a quota basis for each country.


Gulf Times

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