Over 2 million pilgrims to conclude Hajj; Eid tomorrow

Over 2 million pilgrims to conclude Hajj; Eid tomorrow Dubai: A sea of pilgrims estimated to be 2.5 million in number, including 100,000 from India, converged on the vast plains of Arafat in Saudi Arabia for the final day of the annual Hajj on Sunday.

Wearing white seamless robes, the millions of Muslims from every part of the world, started descending on the plains of Mount Arafat early yesterday after spending the night in the city of Mina, that lies 10 kms from Arafat.

The people took buses or the new Mecca Metro and some even came on foot to flock to Arafat where Prophet Mohammad delivered his famous final sermon.

The Chinese built Metro is operating for the first time this year at its full capacity of 72,000 people per hour to ease congestion and avoid stampedes which have previously killed hundreds.

The gathering on Arafat symbolises the peak of the pilgrimage which concludes with Eid al-Azha that will be celebrated tomorrow.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a duty of every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to perform it.

Pilgrims in white seamless clothes started heading for Arafat early yesterday after finishing other rituals, including the 'tawaf' or moving seven times around the Kaba in Mecca, treading back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, and stoning the symbolic 'satan'.

The chants of 'Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik' (Oh God, here I am answering your call) resonated as the sea of humanity descended on Arafat.

This last leg of the Hajj pilgrimage will culminate into the 'Day of Sacrifice' when Muslims all over the world celebrate Eid Al Azha. Eid will be celebrated in the Gulf region tomorrow.

"A total of 1,24,948 pilgrims have arrived from India," said the office of the Consulate General of India in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has in recent years stepped up preparations to avoid any stampedes that have marred the Hajj in the past.

Around 63,000 Hajj security forces in addition to the 17,000 traffic policemen and tens of thousands of officials have been deployed for the largest annual gathering of Muslims in the world.

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.