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Millions Ascend Mecca's Mount Arafat in Annual Hajj

  • Edward Yeranian

Muslim pilgrims visit Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Sept. 23, 2015.

Muslim pilgrims visit Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Sept. 23, 2015.

An estimated two million Muslim pilgrims from around the world climbed Mount Arafat on Wednesday, completing the high point of the annual Hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Security has been tight for the event amid numerous regional threats.

The pilgrims made the ritual climb up Mount Arafat amid searing heat on the second day of the annual Hajj.

Saudi state TV showed the throngs winding their way to the Namira mosque to hear a sermon by the country's top religious leader. The ritual is said to take place on the hillside where Islam's prophet, Muhammad, gave his final sermon.

In a veiled reference to the Islamic State group, Grand Mufti Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh told the gathering that Islam is being torn apart by those who distort what he says is its real message.

He said Islam's enemies are spreading false messages and false beliefs and they are heretics, pretending to be Muslims, but not part of the faith.

Tight security

Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman General Mansour Bin Turki told journalists this year's pilgrimage has taken place without incident.

He says there have been no acts of terrorism or destruction this year and security forces have performed well in fending off such threats.

Saudi commentator Jamal Khashoggi tells VOA that residents of Mecca have had “hundreds of years of experience” in hosting the Hajj, and are now experts in making it a success.

Khashoggi says Saudi officials have also tried in recent years to divorce Islam's highest religious ceremony from politics.

"Saudi Arabia has been sending the message to the Muslim world to keep politics out of the Hajj and it seems that this is paying off. When you look at the Muslims now in Mecca, some of them came from regions in turmoil, but those people are not fighting in Mecca," he said.

The pilgrims were to spend the night in the Valley of Muzdalifa after a slow descent down Mount Arafat. Thursday will mark the end of the annual Hajj, as pilgrims sacrifice an animal in a rite said to date back to the Prophet Abraham.

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