CAIRO, EGYPT - Over 2 million pilgrims are climbing Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia Saturday at the high point of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Rain, thunder and strong wind disrupted the ritual, but most pilgrims appear to have weathered the ordeal.
Rituals on Mount Arafat, where Islam's Prophet Muhammad was reputed to have delivered his final sermon almost 1,400 years ago, is part of the final leg of the annual hajj.
Sheikh Mohammed bin-Hassan al-Sheikh delivered the ritual sermon at the Numeira Mosque on Mount Arafat, telling the crowd gathered both inside and outside the building that mercy is the single most important attribute in life.
He says that God will have mercy on those who have mercy on others and mercy should be the basis of society and all social relations, between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, mothers and other family.
Mohammed Salah Bintan, the minister in charge of the pilgrimage, told journalists that the Saudi Arabian government has spent a great deal of money to improve infrastructure used by pilgrims.
He says that major projects have been carried out during the past year, including rail transport, in order to take hajjis from one place to another and that the government is planning to spend $26 million in the future as part of (Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman's) Vision 2030 infrastructure program.
Bassem Omar al-Qadi, a researcher at a Saudi religious institute, told state TV that the lot of pilgrims has improved considerably during the past 20 years.
He says that the main artery leading to the Numeira Mosque was a chaotic scene 20 years ago, with everyone scrambling to find a place to park, amid anger and frayed nerves, whereas today things are orderly and buses bring people on schedule as pilgrims enjoy their comfortable tent camps.
Arab media noted that Saudi authorities were allowing a number of prisoners to perform their pilgrimage this year, while they are permitted a brief furlough to attend. Mohammed, a prisoner dressed in the ritual white pilgrim's garb described his experience.
He says that he was allowed to bring his wife with him to the pilgrimage and that he is still trying to absorb everything, since he finds it hard to believe that he is able to carry out his hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, without any restrictions and in total tranquility.
After pilgrims descend Mount Arafat Saturday afternoon, they will spend the night in the Valley of Muzdalifa in preparation for the conclusion of the annual hajj Sunday, with the ritual sacrifice of an animal to feed the poor.