By Arab News
More than 2.5 million pilgrims from around the globe prayed for peace and security on the sprawling plains of Arafat on Saturday amid a forceful condemnation by Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh of those who provoke hostilities between the Ummah and its leaders.
The “wuqoof” or “the standing” in Arafat was the high point of the annual pilgrimage. It was also an extraordinary symbol of the unity and equality in Islam.
Delivering the keynote sermon at the majestic Al-Nimira Mosque, the grand mufti said: “Solve your problems without seeking interference from your enemies…and beware of those provoke hostility between you and your leaders.”
The mosque was packed with the faithful and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims prayed out in the open streets.
“Islam is the solution for the problems of Muslims,” he said, and warned Muslims of a media and cultural invasion that seeks to weaken their faith.
Al-Asheikh called on rulers in the Muslim countries not to oppress their people but to help them lead a dignified life.
“It is the duty of Muslim leaders to maintain justice and fight corruption. Their priority should be the welfare of their people,” Al-Asheikh said.
While the ruler strives to help solve the problems of the citizens, the subjects should obey, love and pray for their rulers, Al-Ashiekh said.
The mufti also advised government officials to shun bribery and nepotism, reminding Muslims that the Islamic world was passing through one of its most dangerous and challenging periods.
“The situation has reached such a point that some Muslims had to flee their homes. We have to think about the ways to get out of this crisis,” the mufti said.
He said Islam decried all kinds of terror and destruction, extremism and bloodshed because it is a religion of justice and rights.
Many pilgrims arrived in Arafat on buses, while others set off on foot from Mina, a tent-village that comes to life only during the five-day pilgrimage. Others took the Mashair Railway, also known as the Makkah Metro, to reach Mount Arafat.
“Things have gone according to plans,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour Al-Turki.
Many pilgrims were seen crying hysterically while seeking forgiveness from Allah.
“O Allah grant glory to the nation of Islam, O Allah protect Muslims of the world…O Allah let peace reign in your land…O Allah guide us as we grapple with these difficult times,” said Mamdouh Al-Asiri, a Saudi teacher.
Among the pilgrims were relatives of Farman Ali Khan, the Pakistani citizen who saved many lives during the 2009 Jeddah floods. They have been specially invited by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. The king’s gesture has been widely appreciated in the Pakistani media.
Women formed a big part of the mass gathering. They prayed alongside their husbands and fathers and were a source of strength for the group they were traveling with.
“Arafat reminds me of our beloved Prophet. He asked us to undertake this journey and we have taken it…We have been undertaking this journey for the last 14 centuries and Muslims will continue to do this till the Day of Judgment,” said Munnawara Taimoor, from India. “Yes there were hardships but then I was not alone…There were 2.5 million people doing the same thing and experiencing the same thing. That gave me and my husband strength,” she added.
While Haj is a time to seek forgiveness for sins and meditate on the faith, the unrest across the Middle East region was dominant in the minds of many pilgrims.
Wakil Ali Mohammed from Syria said he hopes for a swift resolution to his country’s eight-month uprising against President Bashar Assad. “The situation in Syria is tragic and I pray to God to end this crisis very soon,” said Mohammed, who has taken part in anti-government protests. “I hope that Bashar, his forces and supporters put an end to this situation.”
Nauffal Al-Mubarak from Palmera said he has asked for peace in his homeland. “We pray to God that security be maintained in our country and other Islamic countries,” he said.
Pilgrims from South Asian countries prayed for peace and prosperity. “I prayed that the scourge of corruption is wiped out from India and we the Muslims get our due share in every walk of life. The government takes up welfare issues on priority basis,” said Mumtaz Ahmad, a Qatar-based Indian who was accompanied by Nadra Fatma.
Indian Consul General Faiz Ahmad Kidwai told Arab News that Indians performed Haj smoothly and thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for making elaborate arrangements for the pilgrims.
“All Indians performed Haj with ease and there was no problem. I appreciate the Saudis for making foolproof arrangements for 3 million people. It’s phenomenal,” Kidwai said.
“For me, this reminded me of the Day of Judgment. Let us not forget that it was here that the Prophet delivered his unforgettable sermon, enunciating far-reaching religious, economic, social and political reforms,” said Jordanian national Taufik Shiddi. “Today I felt the presence and closeness of a merciful God.”
Just after sunset, the mass of contented and happy pilgrims proceeded to Muzdalifah, an open plain about halfway between Arafat and Mina. The pilgrims will first pray and then collect a fixed number of chickpea-sized pebbles to stone the devil in Mina on Sunday.
— Input from Badea Abu Al-Naja, Siraj Wahab & Syed Faisal Ali