Pilgrims mass at Mount Arafat for Haj climax
All the pilgrims had reached Mina at noon, with Saudi officials saying the number of pilgrims from outside the country totalled 1,379,531, down 21 percent on last year’s 1.75m.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said around 1.29m of the pilgrims had arrived in Saudi Arabia from 188 countries, giving no figure for those residing in the kingdom.
Over fears of MERS virus and because of massive projects to expand the capacity of the Grand Mosque, the kingdom cut by 20 percent the quotas for pilgrims allowed in from abroad.
However, the authorities had so far detected no cases among the pilgrims of the MERS virus which has killed 60 people worldwide, 51 of them in Saudi Arabia.
Amid stepped up measures to curb ‘illegal’ pilgrims from sneaking into Makkah through desert roads, security officials said as many as 31,000 Saudi and expatriate pilgrims were turned back for not carrying legal permits, while around 12,600 others were arrested.
From Afghanistan, the Ministry of Hajj and Auqaf says 24,000 people had been flown to Saudi Arabia for the performance of this year’s pilgrimage. The ministry also says it has provided Afghan pilgrims with more facilities this year, compared to the past.
According Hajj and Auqaf Minister Mohammad Yousaf Niazi, most Afghan pilgrims would commute in vehicles in Saudi Arabia in the past, but this year, they had been bought train tickets.
Additionally, he says 130 vehicles have been hired to provide the Afghans with 24 hours conveyance service in Makkah and 26 rooms having all required facilities rented for them, besides 240 extra beds.
Pilgrims thronged Mount Arafat from early Monday for the climax of the annual Haj pilgrimage, arriving on foot, by train or in vehicles.
Helicopters hovered overhead and thousands of troops stood guard to organise roads flooded by men, women and children streaming towards Mount Arafat.
They had moved to Mina on Sunday from the holy city of Makkah, home to the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest place of worship which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba structure towards which all Muslims pray daily five times.
They will crowd onto the hill and the vast plain surrounding it praying until sunset when they then set off for nearby Muzdalifah. There they will then spend the night before moving on in the morning to start the ritual of symbolically stoning the devil.
The Haj, which officially ends on Friday, is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once.
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