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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Devoted pilgrims scale Mount Arafat for Hajj pinnacle

Worshippers abandon cars, dripping in sweat, to retrace the steps of the Prophet Mohammed

Doors of cars and buses packed on the road from Mina eastward open haphazardly. Pouring out are pilgrims who either cannot bear the wait, or who are carried by emotions of wanting to reach the pinnacle of Hajj: Mount Arafat.

The devoted who have abandoned their cars walk the distance, dripping sweat as they retrace the steps of the Prophet Mohammed where he made his final pilgrimage almost 1,400 years ago.

Many who opted to walk the 12 kilometre trail began picking up their pace to beat the noon sun, which would make the temperature soar to 40 degrees.

Ali Hamza, a Turkish pilgrim, cools his face with water from a mist shower set up on a light pole on the outskirts of the sprawling tent city of Arafat.

“We started early, but it was much hotter than we thought,” he said. “We thought maybe the rain from last night would cool the temperature, but I have never experienced this heat ever before”.

Many, like Ali, are unaccustomed to the heat typical of the Hejazi summer, but struggle on to reach the peak of their pilgrimage.

“But I must stay focused, and drink water," he said. "We are here for a purpose”.

Pilgrims re-hydrate under the beating sun.
Pilgrims re-hydrate under the beating sun.

That purpose is to stand on Mount Arafat, or to remain in its premises, and recite prayers at the scene of the Prophet Mohammed’s last sermon.

The walk is often the fastest way for pilgrims to reach Arafat, where they will pray before heading to Muzdaliffah, an open, level area near Makkah.

But the first stop for many is the Namirah Mosque, which is located in Wadi Uranah, just two kilometres away from Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal Rahmah, or Mount of Mercy. It marks the location where the Prophet Mohammed camped during his final pilgrimage in 632 CE.

“I’m blessed to be here and be this close to God,” said a Malaysian man. The Saudi sitting next to him shared his umbrella as they listened to the sermon at noon.

“To be good, kind and patient is key to your successful pilgrimage,” the sermon said, blasted on speakers to reach the furthest areas of the encampment.

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Read more by Naser Al Wasmi from Hajj:

First report: Pilgrims arrive at Makkah for journey of a lifetime

Watch: our Hajj video explainer

Hajj 2018: Live updates from Makkah

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After the gathering, many will head towards the 70-metre hill and pray at the spot where the Prophet Mohammed gave his farewell sermon.

Many who cannot find their tent dwellings have set up makeshift enclosures to beat the heat on the side of the road.

Mount Arafat’s streets, void of life or structure throughout the year, turns into a sprawling metropolis of tents and moving umbrellas on the holy day.

A family has set up along a fence saying they will not spend the night here but that they will simply do the necessary and return to their encampments in Mina at sundown – typically another two-hour walk.

“I did this many years ago,” the patron of the family, Abdullah said. “This is how it was done in 1970 when I went with my father as a child”.

A fruit seller sets up shop on a busy intersection to sell oranges and bananas to pilgrims looking for a snack to energise them on their travels.

“Sometimes I sell, a lot of people think it is for free, but I am here to sell," said, Ahmed, 15, from Yemen. "The Saudi government and Islamic charities are handing out food for free”.

From ice cream to milk, the government has set up stalls throughout the streets to ensure the pilgrims stay hydrated, cool and well fed.

The goodwill rubs off on even the staunchest entrepreneur, the fruit-selling teenager.

“But people sometimes still want to buy. If they don’t have money I, of course, will give it to them,” he said.

Further down the street, the pilgrim traffic gets heavier as they all converge on Jebel Raham, where the Prophet was believed to have given his final sermon.

A man stands entranced, his eyes closed and his hands cupped in front of his face as he whispers his deepest prayers.

Another man next to him advises the group accompanying him. “God is listening to every Muslim here, now we must ask for forgiveness, now we must ask he accepts our Hajj”.

From here, the pilgrims will leave Mount Arafat and head to Mina, picking up stones along the way to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil.