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Muslim Pilgrims Ascend Mecca's Mount Arafat in Annual Hajj Ritual

Muslim pilgrims pray outside Namira mosque in Arafat near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 15 Nov 2010

More than two million Muslim pilgrims climbed Mount Arafat, outside Mecca, on the second day of the annual Islamic pilgrimage, the Hajj.

Saudi government TV showed the vast hajj crowd stretching as far as the eye could see, moving slowly in the direction of the Namera mosque to hear the sermon marking the high point of the day. The stop on Mount Arafat is meant to commemorate where Muslims say their Prophet Mohammed gave his final sermon.

Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh urged Muslims in his sermon to shun violence, war and sectarianism and to practice kindness to others.

He insists the Islamic nation rejects terrorism as a deplorable crime, but that it is not the only crime. The problem, he says, is not just terrorism, but also poverty, unemployment, and diseases, stemming from global crises.

Saudi government officials spoke proudly of their achievement in shepherding more than two-million people from across the world during this year's pilgrimage, safely and without violence.

General Abdallah Jadawi of the Saudi Civil Defense Corps describes preparations. He says a large number of civil defense workers have been deployed during the past three days around Mount Arafat, including rescue workers, ambulance crews, fire crews and a fire prevention team to man a large water network to douse fires. He adds that extra men have also been deployed to keep track of and guide pilgrims in order to prevent stampedes.

Al-Arabiya TV reported that 38 canvas tents, housing mostly Egyptian pilgrims caught fire Sunday, but there were no reported casualties. Tent fires and stampedes have caused hundreds of victims during the Hajj in past years.

Health Minister Abdullah al Rabeeah told Saudi government TV that a large contingent of doctors and nurses were on standby along the pilgrimage route in order to attend to those who were tired or sick. Several dozen cases of pilgrims suffering from exhaustion were reported.

Dozens of workers also toiled for several hours to replace the black silk cover to the Ka'aba, or cube-shaped enclosure inside Mecca's Masjid al Haram.

Meanwhile, Iranian TV showed hundreds of Iranian pilgrims, gathered at a campsite outside Mecca to shout slogans against the United States and Israel. The chanting has become part of an annual ritual which has caused friction with Saudi authorities in years past.

At sunset, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims began the slow trek down from Mount Arafat to the Valley of Muzdalifa, where they will remain for the night . Tuesday pilgrims sacrifice an animal to end hajj in a rite said to date back to the Prophet Abraham.