Hajj Pilgrims throng Arafat

Their palms facing the sky, around two million Muslims gathered on Thursday on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat for the highlight of the Haj pilgrimage, one of the world’s largest annual gatherings.
With temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) under the desert sun, the faithful climbed the hill east of Mecca where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) gave his last sermon some 14 centuries ago.
The second day of the Haj — a five-day pilgrimage which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetime if physically and financially able — is dedicated to prayer and reflection.
“I came up here last night and prayed, took pictures and called my family and friends,” said Maolana Yahia, 32, who made the trip from Indonesia.
This year’s Haj has seen the return of pilgrims from Iran following a diplomatic row and a deadly stampede in 2015.
Helicopters flew around the area as the pilgrims converged from dawn on the Mount Arafat plain and the hill known as Jabal al Rahma, or Mount of Mercy.
Forming a sea of white, the pilgrims ascended the hill and took up positions to pray on rocks already heated by the morning sun.
On the concrete pathways linking the plain to the hill, hundreds of thousands of devout Muslims invoked God, as others rested in makeshift tents or on sheets along the side of the road amid empty bottles and waste.
Tunisian mother-of-three Fatima Arfawi said she was moved beyond words.
“This is the first time I see anything like this, ever,” she said. “This day is dedicated to prayer for my three children and my family.”
In a hospital opposite the mountain, an area was set aside for people suffering dehydration or heat exhaustion.
Saudi Arabia’s Red Crescent said it had deployed 326 ambulances along the pilgrimage route to handle health emergencies. — AFP

Kaaba draped in $6-million cover

Cairo: Islam’s holiest site, the cube-shaped Kaaba, got a new black silk cover on Thursday, an annual ceremonial move that takes place during the Haj pilgrimage.
During the Haj, pilgrims walk around the Kaaba, in Mecca, while Muslims around the globe pray five times a day in its direction.
The cover, called kiswa in Arabic, is made of pure silk cloth that is dyed in black before it is decorated with gold and silver threads. It cost 22 million Saudi Riyals ($6 million). The 14-metre-long cloth has a gilded 95-centimetre belt in the upper part with verses from the Quran written in Arabic calligraphy. Workers spend almost the whole year working on the kiswa in specialised factories. — dpa