VIDEO: Muslim pilgrims in Muzdalifa prepare for Hajj’s final stages

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The General Statistics Authority announced a total of more than two million three hundred and fifty-two thousand pilgrims (2,352,122) are performing Hajj this year, including one million seven hundred and fifty-two thousand (1,752,014) pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia.

The pilgrims gathered at Mount Arafat on Thursday for a vigil to atone for their sins, then descended to Muzdalifa to prepare for the final stages of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Pilgrims clad in white robes spent the previous night in an encampment at the hill where Islam holds that God tested Abraham's faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ismail and where the Prophet Mohammad gave his last sermon.

Other worshippers who had been praying in the nearby Mina area ascended in buses or on foot from before dawn as security forces directed traffic and helicopters hovered overhead.

Some of the faithful carved out seats on the craggy hillside, carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun.

الكعبة تكتسي بحلتها الجديدة
الكعبة تكتسي بحلتها الجديدة

Men and women from nearly every country in the world gathered side by side, some crying on their neighbor’s shoulder.

Awfa Nejm, from a village near Homs, said: "We ask God to protect Syria and its people and return it to the way it was before."

Twenty-seven-year-old Amin Mohammed from Nigeria said he was praying for peace in his country.

Saudi Arabia said more than 2.3 million pilgrims, most of them from outside Saudi Arabia, had arrived for the five-day ritual, a religious duty once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey.

Sheikh Saad al-Shathri, a senior Saudi cleric, delivered a midday sermon denouncing terrorism and violence against civilians.

"Sharia came to preserve the security of nations and cultivate kindness in (people's) hearts," he said, referring to the Islamic legal and moral code derived from the teachings of the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet.

He urged pilgrims to set aside politics during the haj and come together with fellow Muslims.

"This is no place for partisan slogans or sectarian movements which have resulted in great massacres and the displacement of millions," he said.

Still, violence in the Middle East, including wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, and other global hotspots are sure to be on the minds of many pilgrims.

As the sun set, they began moving to the rocky plain of Muzdalifa to gather pebbles to throw at stone columns symbolizing the devil at another location called Jamarat on Friday, which marks the first day of Eid al-Adha (feast of sacrifice).

King Salman visited Mina to review the services offered to pilgrims, state media showed.

saudi king in mina SPA
saudi king in mina SPA

More than 100,000 members of the security forces and 30,000 health workers are on hand to maintain safety and provide first aid.

Saudi state television on Thursday morning showed a new kiswa, the cloth embroidered with verses from the Quran, being placed over the Kaaba in Mecca's Grand Mosque. Pilgrims will return to pray there at the end of Hajj.

(With Reuters)

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