Muslim pilgrims performing the Hajj in Mecca have entered the most important stage of this pillar of Islam on Tuesday, June 26. It involves climbing Mount Arafat, the place where Abraham is said to have wished to immolate his son, in sweltering heat.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims prayed at Mount Arafat in searing heat on Tuesday at the height of an annual hajj pilgrimage held in the fierce Saudi Arabian summer.

Worshipers crowded the rocky rise and surrounding area from before dawn and when the sun appeared, it revealed vast numbers of white-robed worshipers thronging the sacred site.

The ritual is the high point of the annual pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, that officials say could be the biggest on record after three years of Covid restrictions.

High temperatures have been a constant challenge for the pilgrims, who come from around the world, and the mercury hit 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) before midday on the hajj’s most physically demanding day.

The hajj has a tragic history of deadly stampedes and fires and as the pilgrims prayed and recited from the Koran, helicopters hovered low overhead, monitoring the crowds.

Tree-shaped water towers sprayed cooling showers on the visitors, and free water bottles and snacks were handed out from large trucks.

(Photo AFP)

Six field hospitals with more than 300 beds have been arranged in Arafat, Yasser Bair, a Saudi defence ministry official, told the state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV.

The hajj is a life goal for many Muslims, who are expected to perform the pilgrimage at least once if they are financially and physically capable.

It is also a big revenue-earner for Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter which is trying to pivot its economy towards tourism and inward investment.

The pilgrims pray all day at Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammed is said to have given his final sermon. After sunset, they will travel the short distance to Muzdalifah, where they will sleep in the open air.

On Wednesday, they will gather pebbles and hurl them at three giant concrete walls in the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ritual.

Then they will return to Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, for a final circumambulation of the Kaaba, the giant black cube that Muslims worldwide pray towards each day.

It is the biggest hajj since Saudi authorities scrapped a requirement for women to be accompanied by a male guardian in 2021.

At this year’s hajj, which follows the lunar calendar and is not always held in summer, a maximum age limit has also been removed, allowing thousands of elderly to attend.

Malo Pinatel, with AFP