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Haj 2020: Pilgrims scale Mount Arafat for peak of pilgrimage

AFP/Mount Arafat, Saudi Arabia
Filed on July 31, 2020 | Last updated on July 31, 2020 at 11.00 am
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(Photo: Twitter)

Muslim pilgrims wear protective face masks, as they pray on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual Haj pilgrimage, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2020.
(Reuters)

Pilgrims flocked to Mount Arafat on Thursday for the second day of Haj 2020.
(Spa)

A Muslim pilgrim wears a protective face mask as he prays on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, during the annual Haj pilgrimage, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2020.
(Reuters)

Muslim pilgrims receive food as they sit in a tent on the plains of Arafat during the annual Haj pilgrimage, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2020.
(Reuters)

A Muslim pilgrim prays during the sunset on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual Haj pilgrimage, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2020.
(Reuters)

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) disinfect the floor as Muslim pilgrims pray inside Namira Mosque in Arafat to mark Haj's most important day, Day of Arafat, during their Haj pilgrimage amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2020.
(Reuters)

Muslim pilgrims wear protective mask and maintain social distancing as they pray inside Namira Mosque in Arafat to mark Haj's most important day, Day of Arafat, during their Haj pilgrimage amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2020.
(Reuters)

After sunset prayers, they made their way down Mount Arafat to Muzdalifah to prepare for the final stage of Haj.

Masked pilgrims scaled Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat on Thursday to pray and repent in the climax of this year's Haj, the smallest in modern times after massive crowds in previous years due to the coronavirus.

A tight security cordon was erected all around the foot of the rocky hill outside the holy city of Makkah, also known as Jabal Al Rahma or Mount of Mercy, for the high point of the annual ritual.

Also read: Haj 2020: WHO hails Saudi Arabia's coronavirus precautions

Pilgrims, donning masks and observing social distancing as Saudi authorities enforce tough restrictions to prevent a coronavirus outbreak, embarked on the climb to the summit for Holy Quran recitals and prayers to atone for their sins, state television showed.

Sprayed with water sprinklers to beat the desert heat, the pilgrims raised their palms skywards as they climbed the slopes of the hill where Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave his last sermon. 

"I am so happy to be chosen among millions for the Haj this year," Saudi pilgrim Wedyan Alwah said before setting off.

"My lifetime dream has come true."

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.

Pilgrims were earlier ferried in buses from neighbouring Mina and underwent temperature checks before attending a sermon in the local Namira mosque, which state media said was translated into 10 languages.

After sunset prayers, they made their way down Mount Arafat to Muzdalifah, another holy site where they will sleep under the stars to prepare for the final stage of Haj, the symbolic "stoning of the devil".

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

The Haj, 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 are participating in this year's ritual, compared with 2019's gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world.

The pilgrims have all been tested for the virus, according to the authorities. 

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

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

They began the Haj on Wednesday with their first "tawaf", the circumambulation of the Kaaba, a large structure in Makkah's Grand Mosque towards which pilgrims around the world pray.

The Kaaba is draped in a black cloth embroidered in gold with Holy Quranic 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 Haj.

The Haj typically costs thousands of dollars for pilgrims, who often save for years as well as endure long waiting lists for a chance to attend the ritual.

But this year, the Saudi government is covering the expenses of all pilgrims, providing them with meals, hotel accommodation and health care, worshippers said.


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