Jeddah: Dressed in white, over 2.5 million
Muslims, including more than 1 lakh Indians on Friday began the
rites of Hajj pilgrimage as they left for Mount Arafat from
Mecca, even as religious authorities asked pilgrims to avoid
overcrowding at the Grand Mosque in the holy city.
Pilgrims flooded the streets as they headed towards Mina,
around five kilometres east of the holy mosque.
Menwhile, prominent Islamic scholars including Grand
Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh have asked pilgrims to
avoid performing all the compulsory prayers at the Grand
Mosque in Mecca in order to reduce overcrowding at the mosque.
"The whole Mecca is considered haram (sacred place) and
the prayer at any Mecca mosque is equal in reward to praying
at the Haram (Grand) Mosque," the scholars were quoted as
saying by Arab News.
"The reward for prayer at all mosques inside the haram
area is greater than the prayers outside the haram."
The day is known as Tarwiah (Watering) Day, as pilgrims
traditionally watered their sacrificial animals and stocked
water for their trip to Mount Arafat, some 10 kilometres
further on, where prophet Mohammed is believed to have
delivered his final Hajj sermon, hundreds of years ago.
"A total of 1,24,948 pilgrims have arrived from India.
1,24,882 are in Mecca and 3 pilgrims are in Madina. So far 435
flights have come from India," Consulate General of India
said. "As of today 75 pilgrims have expired out of which 63
came through Hajj committee and 12 through private tour
operators," it yesterday.
Saudi Arabia has stepped up preparation to avoid deadly
stampedes that have marred the Hajj in the past, in which
hundreds of pilgrims lost their lives.
In January 2006, 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede
at the entrance to a bridge leading to the stoning site in
Mina, outside Mecca, while 251 were trampled to death in 2004.