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Pilgrims converge at Mount Arafat as hajj reaches its peak

No fewer than 65,000 Nigerian pilgrims on Saturday joined their fellow Muslims from around the world to observe Arafat Day at Muna, Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

They converge at the plain of Arafat to perform the core hajj rite. The ritual at Mount Arafat, known as the hill of mercy, is considered the peak of the Hajj pilgrimage.

It is often the most memorable for pilgrims, who stand shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet, asking Almighty Allah for mercy, blessings, prosperity and good health. The mount is about 20 kilometers southeast of Mecca.

the Hajj takes place varies, given that it is set for five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that pilgrims marched to Arafat under comprehensive security arrangements coordinated by the officials of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and Saudi authorities.

The security personnel ensured the smooth flow of both vehicles and pedestrians by securing routes and implementing transportation and dispatching plans.

The security also provided guidance and ensured the safety of the pilgrims.

NAN reports that both officials of NAHCON and Saudi authorities provide numerous services in the Arafat area.

The services include medical, emergency, and food services, catering to the needs of pilgrims who have traveled from all corners of the world to fulfill the fifth pillar of Islam.

Addressing Nigerian pilgrims in Hajj rite, Dr. Abdallah Gadonkaya enjoined them to use the opportunity of Arafat to seek divine forgiveness and solutions for their personal challenges.

On the slopes of the rocky hill and the surrounding area, many raised their hands in worship with tears streaming down their faces

The cleric also admonished pilgrims to prayed for the restoration of peace and economic prosperity to some parts of Nigeria that are facing security challenges.

He emphasised the need for pilgrims to conduct themselves and exhibit good behaviour with a view to projecting the image of Nigeria positively.

Thousands of pilgrims walked to the mount through the predawn darkness. On the slopes of the rocky hill and the surrounding area, many raised their hands in worship with tears streaming down their faces.

Once the Hajj is over, men are expected to shave their heads, and women to snip a lock of hair in a sign of renewal

“For sure it is something great. It is the best day for Muslims during the year, and the best feeling that anyone can experience,” Hussein Mohammed, an Egyptian pilgrim, said as he stood on the rocky slopes at dawn. “It is the best place for anyone hoping to be (here) on this day and at this moment.”

It’s believed that Prophet Muhammad delivered his final speech, known as the Farewell Sermon, at the sacred mount 1,435 years ago. In the sermon, the prophet called for equality and unity among Muslims.

It’s believed that Prophet Muhammad delivered his final speech, known as the Farewell Sermon, at the sacred mount 1,435 years ago

Ali Osman, a Spaniard pilgrim, was overwhelmed, as he stepped down the hill of mercy. He said he felt that he gained spiritual and physical strength at the sacred site.

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“The place, thank God, (gives) very good energy,” he said. “I came here, thank God. It is my first time. I hope to come again in the future.”

Hajj is one of the largest religious gatherings on earth. The rituals officially started Friday when pilgrims moved from Mecca’s Grand Mosque to Mina, a desert plain just outside the city.

Saudi authorities expect the number of pilgrims this year to exceed 2 million, approaching pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.

Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade

The pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. All Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to make the demanding pilgrimage.

The rituals largely commemorate the Quran’s accounts of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Prophet Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar — or Abraham and Ismael as they are named in the Bible.

This year’s Hajj came against the backdrop of the raging war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, which pushed the Middle East to the brink of a regional war between Israel and its allies on one side and Iran-backed militant groups on the other.

Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca for Hajj this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May, when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip’s southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.

Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca for Hajj this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May

Staving off potential protests or chants about the war during the Hajj, Saudi authorities said they won’t tolerate politicizing the pilgrimage. Col. Talal Al-Shalhoub, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, told reporters Friday evening that the Saudi government “will not allow any attempt to turn the sacred sites (in Mecca) into an arena for mob chanting.”

The time of year when the Hajj takes place varies, given that it is set for five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar.

Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. When it falls in the summer months, temperatures can soar to over 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The Health Ministry has cautioned that temperatures at the holy sites could reach 48 C (118 F) and urged pilgrims to use umbrellas and drink more water to stay hydrated.

After Saturday’s worship in Mount Arafat, pilgrims will travel a few miles to a site known as Muzdalifa to collect pebbles for symbolic stoning of devil back in Mina

Most of the pilgrims at Mount Arafat carried umbrellas, while others sat in the shadow of a few trees and buildings around the hill of mercy. And, as at Mina and the Grand Mosque, cooling stations on the roads leading to the mount and in its surrounding areas sprayed pilgrims with water to help fight the heat, which had already climbed to 47 C (116.6 F) at Mount Arafat, according to Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Meteorology.

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After Saturday’s worship in Mount Arafat, pilgrims will travel a few kilometers (miles) to a site known as Muzdalifa to collect pebbles that they will use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina. Many walk, while others use buses.

Pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday, when financially able Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to poor people. Afterward, they return to Mecca for a final circumambulation, known as Farewell Tawaf.

Most of the pilgrims at Mount Arafat carried umbrellas, while others sat in the shadow of a few trees and buildings around the hill of mercy

Once the Hajj is over, men are expected to shave their heads, and women to snip a lock of hair in a sign of renewal. Most of the pilgrims then leave Mecca for the city of Medina, some 340 kilometers (210 miles) away, to pray in Prophet Muhammad’s tomb, the Sacred Chamber. The tomb is part of the prophet’s mosque, which is one of the three holiest sites in Islam, along with the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Hajj is a notorious choke-point for crowds. In 2015, several thousands of pilgrims were crushed to death in a crowd surge. Saudi authorities never offered a final death toll.

In recent years, Saudi authorities have made significant efforts to improve access and avoid deadly accidents. Tens of thousands of security personnel were deployed across the city, especially around the holy sites, to control the crowds, and the government built a high-speed rail link to ferry people between holy sites in the city, which has been jammed with traffic during the Hajj season. Pilgrims enter through special electronic gates.

Pilgrims return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday

Saudi authorities have also expanded and renovated the Grand Mosque where cranes are seen around some of its seven minarets as construction was underway in the holy site.(NAN/AP)

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