| ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia
ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia Muslim pilgrims poured
onto the plain of Arafat east of Mecca on Tuesday as the sun
rose over the rocky hills for the day marking the climax of the
annual haj pilgrimage.
They came on foot, by bus and in pick-up trucks from Mina
and other sites in the direction of Mecca, adding to a throng
which will reach more than two million in the afternoon.
Saudi authorities say more than 1.6 million people have
entered Saudi Arabia for the event, the largest religious
gathering in the world, which poses a huge logistical and
security challenge for the Saudi authorities.
The haj has been marred in previous years by fires, hotel
collapses, police clashes with protestors trying to politicize
the haj and deadly stampedes caused by overcrowding.
The government is also wary of any militant actions. Al
Qaeda-linked militants launched a campaign to destabilize the
U.S.-allied monarchy in 2003, and Saudi radicals opposed to the
royal family seized control of Mecca's Grand Mosque in 1979.
A representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei managed to give a speech to a group of Iranian
pilgrims at Arafat on Tuesday denouncing "enemies of the Muslim
Shown on Iranian TV, pilgrims waved signs saying "Death to
America" and "Death to Israel" and chanted slogans. President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is performing haj this year at the
invitation of Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally.
Some of the most enthusiastic pilgrims spent the night on
Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or the Mountain of
Mercy, nestling in cracks between the boulders. The night air
was pleasantly cool, with a breeze from the desert.
SEA OF PEOPLE
Pilgrims perched on the hillside said they had prayed for
the welfare and success of Muslims across the world.
Zaki Ali Ibrahim, an Egyptian driver working in Saudi
Arabia, said he spent the whole night in prayer with friends.
"I prayed that all Muslims may prosper, and that I may
prosper with them," he said. "I felt that my prayers for
Muslims were reaching God with strength."
Shazli Atallah Mohamed, a plumber from the southern
Egyptian province of Qena, said that on the hilltop he felt he
was closer to God than anywhere else on earth. "I prayed that
God might accept us all into paradise," he said.
A large group chanted prayers in unison, asking God to help
fellow Muslims in areas of conflict including the Palestinian
territories, Chechnya, Kashmir and Sudan.
As day spread across the plain, the size of the pilgrimage
came to light.
A sea of people wrapped in white cloth streamed along
six-lane roads to fill the plain, carrying mats, food, screens
against the sun, Korans and prayer books.
Fruit sellers set up stalls and tea stands suddenly
appeared. African trader women spread their wares on the
ground, offering prayer beads, incense and prayer mats.
One man offered rides in the howdahs of camels, richly
decorated with brocade and colored pompoms.
The afternoon at Arafat, known in Arabic as the wuqouf or
"standing," is an essential part of the pilgrimage but the
requirements are not strict.
The noon prayer and sermon at the Namera Mosque is a major
event, evoking the sermon which the Prophet Mohammad made from
the hill in the year of his death in 632.