`ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia - More than 2.5 million pilgrims converged on Saturday, November 5, on Mount `Arafat, east of the holy city of Makkah, for the climax of their soul-searching journey of hajj after spending a night of meditation and introspection in the tent city of Mina.
"I'm so happy to have set foot on Arafat's sacred soil," Indonesian pilgrim Noor Laila told Agence France Presse (AFP).
"I want to wash away all my sins and ask God to forgive my mistakes. This is the first time I come to hajj and I hope it won't be the last," said the 36-year-old.
Pilgrims flocked to `Arafat, also known as Mount of Mercy, from early morning, after spending a night of meditation and introspection in the tent city of Mina which marked the first leg of their five-day spiritual journey
They chanted "Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik (Here I am answering Your call, O God)," all they way to `Arafat, where Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) delivered his last sermon 14 centuries ago.
Following the lead of the Prophet Sunnah, the Pilgrims performed noon and afternoon prayer Dhuhr and Asr combined and shortened at the Namera Mosque.
The prayer was led by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Alsheikh, who also delivered the `Arafat sermon, commemorating the sermon Prophet Muhammad made in the year of his death in 632, prior to the prayer.
Pilgrims spend the day on the plains of `Arafat in the most essential pillar of hajj.
For the rest of the day, the pilgrims supplicate to God to forgive their sins and grant them mercy, and pray for fellow Muslims, and for unity and peace around the world.
Pilgrims then will descend by train back to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they will take part in the symbolic stoning of the devil at Jamrat Al-Aqaba and spend the night.
On Sunday, all pilgrims head back to Mina, where they sacrifice animals to mark the beginning of the four-day `Eid Al-Adha.
Muslims who perform hajj properly return to their homes having all their sins washed away as promised by Prophet Muhammad.
Every year, Makkah sees millions of Muslims from around the world pouring to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj's ceremonies are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Chanting "I am responding to your call Allah" in unison, pilgrims dream for mounting `Arafat was finally fulfilled.
"I came here with my family after we managed to save enough money," Malaysian Abdullah Wali al-Deen, 45, said he had been working for years for this day.
"Everyone in here is equal. There are no differences between various nationalities.
This is the religion of peace, love and brotherhood."
More than 1.83 million pilgrims have arrived in the kingdom from abroad, marking a 1.5 per cent increase compared with last year, said Mecca governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal.
Moving from the tent city of Mina, many pilgrims went on buses, while others set off on foot from Mina.
Others used Makkah Metro, dubbed as the Holy Rituals Train, to go to Mount Arafat and its surrounding plains.
This year, the Chinese-built railway operates for the first time at its full capacity of 72,000 people per hour to ease congestions and prevent stampedes.
To help prevent chaos, the authorities have numbered buses and tents in Mina and Arafat according to the countries from which the pilgrims have come.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars over the years to avoid deadly stampedes that have marred the hajj in the past.
Saudi Arabia also launched a new $10.6-billion project for a new extension to Mecca's Grand Mosque to increase its capacity to two million worshippers.
No incidents were reported this year.
"Things are going well and according to (the government's) plans," interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told AFP.
For the first time this year, the hajj is being streamed live on video-sharing website YouTube in co-operation with the Saudi government.
"Millions of people from around the world will be able to experience and comment on the event by tuning in via video," YouTube said in a blog.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net