Pilgrims start hajj in Saudi Arabia

2013-10-14 18:47
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Annual pilgrimage to Mecca

See pictures of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. More than 2 million Muslims have arrived in Saudi Arabia, amid concerns over the deadly MERS coronavirus.

Mount Arafat - About 2 million Muslims from around the world prayed at a desert hill in Saudi Arabia on Monday, joined in their faith and desire to purify their souls at the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

It is here on Mount Arafat, marked by a white pillar, where Islam's Prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his last sermon to tens of thousands of followers about 1 400 years ago, calling on Muslims to unite.

Prayers on and around the mount are a climactic emotional and spiritual moment in the hajj. The faithful believe that on this day the gates of heaven are open, prayers are answered and past sins are forgiven.

Among the crowds of pilgrims on Monday, men and women wept as they stretched their hands out in prayer and supplication.

"Labayk, Allahuma, labayk," they repeated - "Here I am, God, answering your call. Here I am."

The prayers at Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, are part of the elaborate and physically demanding purification rites of hajj.

Hajj is a central pillar of Islam and all able-bodied Muslims are required to perform it once in their lives.

While following a route Muhammad once walked, the rites are believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.

For many pilgrims, the hajj is an answer to a lifetime of prayers - particularly for the poor, who often save for years for the chance to make the journey.

The rites emphasise equality before God, whether rich or poor. Men dress in seamless white terrycloth garments symbolising simplicity. Women wear long, loose clothing and a headscarf, forgoing perfume and makeup.

Read more on:    saudi arabia  |  religion

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