Badea Abu Al-Naja
Saudi Gazette and Agencies
MINA — About two million pilgrims on Monday prayed for world peace and prosperity for all as they thronged Mount Arafat, the high point of the annual Haj. They also beseeched Almighty Allah to end bloodshed in several Muslim countries and to protect the unity of Muslim Ummah.
Helicopters hovered overhead and thousands of troops stood guard to organize roads flooded with men, women and children.
Chanting “Labbaik Allahuma Labbaik” (I am responding to your call, God), many of them camped in small colorful tents and took shelter under trees to escape temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Special sprinklers were set up to help cool the pilgrims.
In his Haj sermon, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Alsheikh urged Muslims to avoid divisions, chaos and sectarianism, without explicitly speaking of the turmoil in some Arab countries. “Your nation is a trust with you. You must safeguard its security, stability and resources,” he said.
“You should know that you are targeted by your enemy... who wants to spread chaos among you ... It’s time to confront this.”
He did not speak specifically of any country, but recalled the Islamic prohibition of killing and aggression, while insisting there is “no salvation or happiness for the Muslim nation without adhering to the teachings of the religion.”
Hell is the final abode for those who spill the blood of an innocent human, Alsheikh said. “Islam does not allow terrorism at any cost. Islam condemns all violence and terrorism plaguing the world today,” he said.
The Grand Mufti said Muslims throughout the world were going through a difficult time, and stressed that the global economic crisis could be controlled if the Islamic economic system was adopted.
“Muslims should support the community by investing in their businesses,” he urged.
With tears rolling down her cheeks, an Egyptian pilgrim was heard praying for peace to return to her country. “O Lord You have power over everything. Please make our leaders see reason and work for unity of the country,” she was heard as saying.
A Syrian pilgrim was angry at the West for not taking any action against Bashar Al-Assad regime “even when his role in chemical attack on civilians was proved.”
Pilgrims from India and Pakistan prayed for an end to terrorism cases in their respective countries. They also prayed for strengthening of ties between the two countries.
Attendance is sharply down from last year, due to fears linked to the MERS virus and to multibillion-dollar expansion work at the Grand Mosque to almost double its capacity to around 2.2 million worshipers.
Makkah Emir and chief of the Central Haj Committee Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said 1.38 million pilgrims had arrived from outside of the Kingdom while only 117,000 Haj permits were issued for domestic pilgrims.
This puts the total number of pilgrims this year at almost 1.5 million, less than half of last year’s 3.2 million, after Riyadh slashed Haj quotas.
Health authorities have stressed that no cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus have been detected so far this pilgrimage.
Pilgrims arrived at Arafat from nearby Mina where most of them spent the night following the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who performed the rituals 14 centuries ago.
They had moved to Mina on Sunday from Makkah and other surrounding cities.
On reaching Arafat, they crowded onto the hill and the vast plain surrounding it to pray until sunset. Pilgrims set off for Muzdalifah to collect pebbles for the stoning of the devil ritual and spend the night there.
Earlier, 61-year-old Algerian pensioner Saeed Dherari said: “I will pray the whole day for God to improve the situation for Muslims worldwide and an end to disputes and bloodshed in Arab countries.”
“I hope that God will grace all Muslims with security and stability,” said 75-year-old Ahmad Khader, who hails from the southern Syrian province of Daraa.
“The regime is tyrannical and I pray for God to help the oppressed people,” he said, referring to Assad’s embattled government.
Egyptian Ahmad Ali, who is performing Haj for the first time, prayed for peace after hundreds were killed in recent months in fighting between security forces and Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
“I pray for Egypt to enjoy security and stability and for the people to reach understanding and reconciliation,” Ali said.