CAIRO - Around two million Muslim pilgrims have marked the high point of the hajj — the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca — by ascending Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia. Saudi security forces remain on high alert, amid a variety of internal and external terrorist threats.
Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims made the ritual ascent to the Namira mosque on Mount Arafat, outside Mecca, braving a blazing summer sun and temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Celsius.
Saudi television showed a sea of pilgrims cloaked in white cloth robes, many clutching umbrellas to shield them from the sun, climbing Mount Arafat, where Islam's Prophet Mohammed, is thought to have given his final sermon.
Sheikh Sa'ad al-Shetri, addressing them at the mosque, told them the pilgrimage should be focused on God.
He said the hajj must be dedicated to God, alone, and that there can be no place for political or sectarian strife, which has resulted in horrible massacres and left millions homeless.
Prince Khalid al-Faisal, Emir of Mecca, told journalists the Saudi government has done its utmost to ensure the comfort and safety of the pilgrims attending this year's hajj.
He said the Saudi hajj authority has provided 21,000 tour buses, a shuttle train that can carry 360,000 pilgrims, and provided for health concerns with 30,000 doctors and nurses, 17 hospitals, 35 emergency rooms, and 135 mobile health centers.
Thousands of Saudi security personnel, dressed in black, held training drills overnight to ensure their readiness for possible problems.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdel Aziz ben Saoud said several days ago his ministry and others are cooperating to make sure the pilgrimage takes place safely and without any glitches.
He said several government ministries and private organizations have cooperated to make the hajj go off smoothly and ensure the pilgrims' comfort and safety.
Pilgrims were spending Thursday night in the Valley of Muzdalifa after slowly descending Mount Arafat. The hajj concludes Friday, as pilgrims sacrifice an animal.