Muslim pilgrims to scale Mount Arafat for peak of hajj


MOUNT ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia, July 30, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Muslim
pilgrims converged Thursday on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat for the
climax of this year’s hajj, the smallest in modern times and a sharp
contrast to the massive crowds of previous years.

A tight security cordon has been erected all around the foot of the
rocky hill outside Mecca, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of

Pilgrims, donning masks and observing social distancing, were
brought in buses from neighbouring Mina, state television showed, as
Saudi authorities impose measures to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

They were subject to temperature checks and attended a sermon —
which state media said was translated into 10 languages — before they
set off on the climb to the summit for hours of Koran recitals and
prayers to atone for their sins.

The scene was strikingly different to last year’s ritual when a sea
of pilgrims ascended Mount Arafat, marshalled by tens of thousands of
stewards in a bid to prevent any crushes.

After sunset prayers, pilgrims will make their way down Mount Arafat
to Muzdalifah, another holy site where they will sleep under the stars
to prepare for the final stage of hajj, the symbolic “stoning of the

It takes place on Friday and also marks the beginning of Eid
al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice.

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for
able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of
the world’s largest religious gatherings.

But only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will
participate in this year’s ritual, compared with 2019’s gathering of
some 2.5 million from around the world.

“You are not our guests but those of God, the custodian of the two
holy mosques (Saudi Arabia’s King Salman) and the nation,” Hajj
Minister Mohammad Benten said in a video released by the media
ministry on Wednesday.

– Security cordon –

A security cordon has been thrown around the holy sites to prevent
any security breaches, an interior ministry spokesman said.

Riyadh faced strong criticism in 2015 when some 2,300 worshippers
were killed in the deadliest stampede in the gathering’s history.

But this year, those risks are greatly reduced by the much smaller crowd.

The pilgrims have all been tested for the virus, and foreign
journalists were barred from this year’s hajj, usually a huge global
media event.

As part of the rites completed over five days in the holy city of
Mecca and its surroundings, the pilgrims converged on Mount Arafat
after spending the night in Mina.

A district of Mecca, Mina sits in a narrow valley surrounded by
rocky mountains, and is transformed each year into a vast encampment
for pilgrims.

They began the hajj on Wednesday with their first “tawaf”, the
circumambulation of the Kaaba, a large structure in Mecca’s Grand
Mosque towards which Muslims around the world pray.

The Kaaba is draped in a black cloth embroidered in gold with
Koranic verses and known as the kiswa, which is changed each year
during the pilgrimage.

Pilgrims were brought inside the mosque in small batches, walking
along paths marked on the floor, in sharp contrast to the normal sea
of humanity that swirls around the Kaaba during hajj.