Two million Muslim pilgrims converged on Mount Arafat outside Mecca Saturday marshalled by tens of thousands of stewards in a bid to prevent any repetition of previous years’ deadly stampedes. Movable crowd control barriers were erected all around the foot of the rocky hill, also known as Jabal al-Rahma, or Mount of Mercy, where the faithful arrived on foot or in a seemingly endless line of buses.
Raising their palms skywards, the pilgrims set off on the climb to the summit where they hold prayers to atone for their sins in a ritual that is regarded as the high point of the annual Hajj.
“Really, I am very satisfied,” said Lassina Coulibaly, a 47-year-old Malian business employee as pilgrims clutching brightly coloured umbrellas gathered under the blazing sun.
“Fatigue is part of the pilgrimage,” added the father of seven.
Thousands of faithful had spent the night under the stars, sleeping on prayer rugs or pieces of cardboard. Trucks were parked at regular intervals on the route leading up to the hill, distributing bottles of water and meals to the faithful.
Thousands of workers prepared to clear the rubbish that littered the ground.
Helicopters criss-crossed overhead, part of the tight security precautions taken by the pilgrimage’s Saudi hosts.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.
Oudine, who works in the Saudi city of Jeddah less than 90 kilometres (barely 55 miles) from Mecca, says he is happy to see so many of his compatriots among the pilgrims. “Indonesians make up the single largest contingent, such is the will of God,” he said.
Pilgrims travelling from abroad account for 1.86 million of the 2.26 million taking part in this year’s Hajj, according to official figures.
After sunset prayers, pilgrims will make their way down Mount Arafat to Muzdalifah, another holy site where they will sleep under the stars to prepare for the final stage of hajj, a ritual “stoning of the devil”.
That marks the beginning of Eid-ul-Azha, the festival of sacrifice, marked on Sunday.
The scale of the pilgrimage presents vast security and logistical challenges, with tens of thousands of safety officers deployed.
Riyadh faced strong criticism in 2015 when some 2,300 worshippers were killed in the deadliest stampede in the gathering’s history.