MUZDAALIFAH: Over 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims moved on Wednesday towards the holy site of Muzdalifah in Saudi Arabia, where they gather pebbles for the last major rite of this year´s hajj.
Their symbolic stoning of the devil on Thursday will coincide with the Eidul Azha feast of sacrifice marked by the world´s more than 1.5 billion Muslims.
Around two million white-clad faithful spent a day of prayer Wednesday on a vast Saudi plain and its Mount Arafat for the peak of the hajj pilgrimage.
Police sirens pierced the air and helicopters hovered overhead as the faithful later arrived at nearby Muzdalifah, where water sprays cooled them.
They placed prayer rugs and mats on the ground where they remained until dawn. Many laid down to rest but others savoured tea and refreshments offered by fellow pilgrims.
Most were busy choosing the pebbles they planned to use for the next day´s stoning, storing them in empty water bottles.
“We are implementing the prophet´s sunnah” by gathering the stones, said Mezian Abdelkarim, 60, of Algeria.
“We pick up a total of 49 pebbles to stone the devil,” said Bangladeshi pilgrim Shafiq al-Alim, who is performing the pilgrimage for his dead grandmother.
He and others had earlier prayed and recited the Quran at Mount Arafat, a 300-metre-high (328 yards) slippery, rocky hill where the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) gave his last sermon 14 centuries ago after leading his followers on hajj.
Carrying colourful umbrellas as protection from the searing heat, they had walked from dawn in massive crowds towards the plain and its hill — also known as Mount Mercy.
“We prayed as much as we could, with much spirituality,” said Mohammed Zahran, 39, of Lebanon.
The faithful gathered in their hundreds of thousands for noon prayers at Mount Arafat, where Saudi Arabia´s top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Shaikh, gave his annual sermon.