Mount Arafat: Over 2 million Muslims, including about 1.5 lakh Indians, thronged Mount Arafat and its surrounding plain in Saudi Arabia today for the high point of the Haj pilgrimage, with a sea of people from different countries standing together, united by faith.
After spending the night in tent city of Mina, tens of thousands of pilgrims clad in white seamless cloth headed towards Mount Arafat following dawn prayers.
On reaching Arafat, they crowded onto the hill and the plain surrounding it to pray until sunset. Helicopters hovered overhead and thousands of troops stood guard to organise roads flooded with men, women and children in Arafat.
Chants of 'Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik' (O God, here I am answering your call) and 'Allah-o-Akbar' (God is Great) reverberated as the pilgrims, wearing the ihram or a two-piece seamless white garment, began moving to Arafat, about 15 km east of the holy city of Mecca.
Standing at Arafat, where the Prophet is believed to have delivered his final Haj sermon, is an accomplishment of a pilgrim's life and fulfillment of his dream of performing Haj.
All the men in the seamless two-piece white garment, symbolising a state of purity and emphasising their unity regardless of social status or nationality, will spend the day in prayer and supplication, marking the high point of the five-day Haj. The pilgrims would return to Mina valley tomorrow after offering morning prayer.
Eid-ul-Azha will be celebrated in Saudi Arabia tomorrow. The pilgrimage will end after Eid al-Adha. The Haj 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.
This year's Haj taking place against the backdrop of fear of two deadly viruses - Ebola and the MERS coronavirus - and rise of Islamic State group jihadists in Middle East.
The Saudi government agencies have made elaborate arrangements to protect pilgrims from these virus. It has also put in place elaborate security measures to ensure a peaceful and hassle-free Haj for pilgrims from over 160 nations.
It has deployed over 70,000 officers and Black Hawk helicopters to ensure the safety and security of pilgrims. About 1.4 million foreign pilgrims, about one-fourth of whom are from the sub-continent, are performing Haj.
A number of foreign heads of state, including Bangladesh President Mohammed Abdul Hamid, Sudanese President Omar Bashir, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen are performing Haj this year.