ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – More than two million Muslims gathered at Mount Arafat on Monday for a vigil to atone for their sins and ask God’s forgiveness as the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia reached its climax.
Pilgrims clad in white robes signifying a state of purity spent the night in an encampment around the hill where Islam holds that God tested Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ismail and Prophet Mohammad gave his last sermon.
Other worshippers praying in the nearby Mina area ascended in buses or on foot from before dawn as security forces directed traffic and helicopters and surveillance drones hovered overhead.
Some pilgrims carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun as temperatures surpassed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) after an evening of thunderstorms and high winds. Men and women from 165 countries gathered side by side, while soldiers handed out bottled water and some people snapped selfies.
Pakistani pilgrim Mohamed Forqan, 30, said it was a great day to be a Muslim. “Here in Arafat we feel that we are born today asking Allah to forgive our sins,” he said.
Hilal Issa, 70, from Algeria, said he was praying for God to pardon all Muslims and save the Arab world from its afflictions.
Saudi Arabia has said more than 2.3 million pilgrims, mostly from outside Saudi Arabia, have arrived for the five-day ritual, a religious duty once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey.
The pilgrims will spend the day on Mount Arafat. By sunset they will move to the rocky plain of Muzdalifa to gather pebbles to throw at stone columns symbolizing the devil at another location called Jamarat on Tuesday, which marks the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.
A new kiswa, the cloth embroidered with verses from the Koran, was placed over the Kaaba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque late on Sunday. Pilgrims will return to pray there at the end of haj.