Mount Arafat: Over 2 million pilgrims, including about 1.5 lakh Indians, thronged Mount Arafat and its surrounding plain today for the high point of Haj as Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti voiced Islam's unequivocal position against extremism and terrorism.
After reaching Mina, where they spent the night in prayer and supplication, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims clad in a white seamless cloth headed towards Arafat following Fajr prayers this morning. On reaching Arafat, they crowded onto the hill and the plain surrounding it to pray until sunset.
Before noon all pilgrims had reached Arafat and there was only a sea of people everywhere with pilgrims packed on the roads and inside Masjid Nimrah.
Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh in his annual Arafat sermon, which he delivered for the 34th year in a row, called on Muslims to unite and overcome divisions to build a stronger Muslim Ummah (community).
The thrust of his address was on Islam's moderation and tolerance as well as the religion's unequivocal position against extremism and terrorism.
The Mufti had earlier said that the dreaded militant groups -- Islamic State and al Qaeda -- were "enemy number one of Islam" and not in any way part of the faith.
He asked Muslims to assume leadership roles at all levels of life -- at family, national and international level.
Hundreds of thousands of people prayed together here combining the afternoon and evening prayers as they move to Muzdalifa at sunset.
Even intense heat could not dampen the enthusiasm of the pilgrims, some of whom took shelter under trees while others braved the sun but continued to pray and ask God for forgiveness.
The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam that should be performed at least once in lifetime by every Muslim who is financially and physically capable.
Emotional scenes were witnessed here in Arafat as many were in tears while others continued to thank God for making this journey possible for them.
Chants of "Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik" (O God, here I am answering your call) and "Allah hu Akbar" (God is the greatest) reverberated as the pilgrims began moving to Arafat, about 15 km east of the holy city of Mecca, from Mina.
Standing at Mount Arafat is an accomplishment of a pilgrim's life and fulfillment of his dream of performing Haj. The seamless two-piece white garment known as ihram symbolises a state of purity and emphasises unity among pilgrims regardless of social status or nationality.
Helicopters hovered overhead and thousands of troops stood guard to organise roads flooded with men, women and children in Arafat.
Saudi Arabia has deployed over 70,000 officers in Mecca, Madina and other holy cities to ensure the safety and security of pilgrims during the five-day Haj.
Indian pilgrims spend the day in Mina yesterday praying or reciting the Quran. With many elderly people among Indian pilgrims, some were taken to Arafat in the night itself while some chose to walk to Arafat in the morning.
"Our team members are facilitating the movement of pilgrims by lending all support to muallims (caretakers) who are responsible for their transportation," Indian Consul General BS Mubarak told PTI.
"All our needs were taken care of and we were really looked after in Mina," Mohammad Shahid, an Indian pilgrim from Amroha said.
"This is my third Haj, standing here in Arafat is a great feeling. This year Haj is falling on a Friday, it is a great feeling. A lot of people back home have asked me to pray for them. Allah has made this journey possible," the 51-year-old said.
Many elderly people are part of the Indian group, including a 109-year-old man from Murshidabad, West Bengal, and another centenarian from Bagpath, Uttar Pradesh.
"You get this chance only rarely, I am very excited to be here. It is a mixed feeling of fear of God, happiness and love for God," Muhamed Mizic from Bosnia said.
"I will pray for peace, for love and for my people back home," he said.
Chairul Fahmy Hussaini, a pilgrim from Singapore, said "It is my first Haj, the feeling cannot be described in words. I am very happy to see that so many people are here and the Saudi authorities are taking great care of them.
"I have never seen so many people together and I am just elated to get this opportunity," he said.
After sunset, the pilgrims will march toward Muzdalifah Valley and spend the night there in prayers after performing combined Maghreb and Isha prayers.
Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif said a total of 1,389,053 foreign pilgrims, one-fourth of whom are from the sub-continent, have arrived for Haj this year from 163 countries.
Among the total foreign pilgrims, 757,981 are men and 631,072 women.
The journey of the pilgrims began on Wednesday, when they streamed towards Mina for the first leg of Haj.
The Saudi government has kept strict vigil to prevent illegal pilgrims from entering the sacred places. So far, 1,420 have been caught violating Haj regulations in addition to 61,558 vehicles checked trying to enter the sacred area without obtaining Haj permission.
Healthcare has been given top priority by the Saudi government with nearly 22,000 medics, paramedics, and administrators deployed to provide healthcare services at 182 healthcare facilities.
The health department has worked hard to keep all pilgrims safe from deadly viruses like Ebola and MERS.
Pilgrims from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three nations hardest-hit by Ebola which has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa this year, have not been allowed in for the Haj this year.
"No infectious cases have been recorded among the pilgrims, including coronavirus (MERS)," said Acting Health Minister Adel Fakieh in a statement.
The pilgrimage will end after Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice.