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Pilgrims starts flowing into Mecca for tha Hajj

By Usama Al-Wadea, NNN-KUNA

Riyadh : Millions of Muslims who have arrived in Saudi Arabia from around the globe have began to make for Mecca for the first day of the hajj that starts Monday.

On this first official day of the pilgrimage, millions of pilgrims that have now gathered travel to Mina, a small village east of the city of Mecca. There they spend the day and night in enormous tent cities, praying, reading the Quran, and resting for the next day, where they head to Mount Arafat.

Dozens of thousands of cars and buses started from Al-Madinah, where they visited Prophet Muhammad’s tomb, to Mecca as of Saturday amidst due preparations by the Saudi authorities providing all types of services for the “guests of God.”

The pilgrimage scene in Mecca is solemn, gathering Muslims of dozens of nationalities from each and every corner of the world. Millions of pilgrims in their white garments (Al-Ihram) are repeating, in such harmony and state of devotion and purity, the immortal Labbaik Allahuma Labbaik, Labbaik Laa Shareeka Laka Labbaik, Innal Hamda Wahhimata Laa Shareeka Lak.” (“I respond to Your call my Lord, I respond to You, there is no deity save You. All praise, grace and dominion belong to You. You have no partners”) in such harmony and state of devotion and purity for the pilgrimage.

With Monday’s sunrise the pilgrims will make their way to Mina to spend the full “Tarwia day”, day and night, praying and reading the Quran. Then, at the dawn of the second day of the hajj ritual, (Tuesday) the Day of Arafat pilgrims will make their way from Mecca to a nearby hillside and plain called Mount Arafat and the Plain of Arafat. It was from this site that the Prophet Muhammad gave his famous Farewell Sermon in his final year of life.

Through the entire day, from dawn until sunset, pilgrims stand in earnest supplication and devotion, praying for God’s abundant forgiveness. Tears are shed readily as those who gather make repentance and seek God’s mercy, recite words of prayer and remembrance, and gather together as equals before their Lord.

After sunset, the pilgrims leave and travel to a nearby open plain called Muzdalifah, roughly halfway between Arafat and Mina. There they spend the night praying, and collecting small stone pebbles to be used the following day.

On the third day, Eid Al-Adha Day, the pilgrims move before sunrise, this time back to Mina where they throw their stone pebbles at pillars that represent the temptations of Satan. When throwing the stones, the pilgrims recall the story of Satan’s attempt to dissuade Abraham from following God’s command to sacrifice his son. The stones represent Abraham’s rejection of Satan and the firmness of his faith.

After casting the pebbles, pilgrims slaughter an animal (often a sheep or a goat) and give away the meat to the poor.

Throughout the world, Muslims celebrate Eid Al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, on this day. This is the second of the two major holidays in Islam each year.

For the hajj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion where more than two million Muslims gather, the Saudi authorities saved no efforts or money to make it a smooth and safe journey. “We will make every effort to ensure the security and safety of the guests of God,” Interior Minister Prince Nayef told reporters late on Saturday at the plain of Arafat where pilgrims will spend the day on Tuesday.

He said there was no link between this year’s hajj and 208 men detained last month in the latest of a series of sweeps against suspected militants in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and home to Islam’s holiest sites.

The hajj has been marred in previous years by fires, hotel collapses and police clashes with protesters and deadly stampedes caused by overcrowding.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the rites this year.