Hajj 2019: 2.5 Million Pilgrims Move to Arafat for Peak of Pilgrimage

About 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims marked on Saturday the second day of Hajj, the peak of the Islamic major pilgrimage, the world’s largest annual gathering of the faithful. This year’s pilgrim numbers have surpassed last year’s.

According to the Center for International Communication, Ministry of Media, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the General Authority for Statistics said on Saturday that the total number of international and domestic pilgrims who arrived in Makkah by 9 am on the 9th of Dhul Hijjah 1440 Hijri  – corresponding to August 10, 2019 in the Gregorian calendar, has reached 2,487,160, with the number of pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom put at 1,855,027. A total of 632,133 pilgrims are Saudis or residents of the Kingdom. The numbers for 2019 have already surpassed last year’s, when more than 2.37million pilgrims performed Hajj.

The second day of Hajj is known as Yaum Arafa, as pilgrims leave the holy site of Mina for Mount Arafat (also known as Arafa). Once at Mount Arafat – where Prophet Mohammed delivered his last sermon in 632 CE – the pilgrims stood in contemplation, praying and asking God for forgiveness of their sins amid continuous chanting of “Labbeika Allahumma Labbeik” (“Here I am, O God, here I am”). They also listened to a sermon near Jabal Al-Rahmah.

Hajj officially started on the evening of 8th of Dhul Hijjah, or Friday, August 9th, and lasts until the 12th of Dhul Hijjah but some pilgrims still perform Hajj on the 13th of the same Islamic month, corresponding to Wednesday, August 14th.

Hajj 2019 - Side view of Abraj Al-Bait (Makkah Clock Tower) photo
Hajj 2019 – Side view of Abraj Al-Bait (Makkah Clock Tower)

During Arafat Day, the pilgrims cram into an area that is about 33 square kilometers in area, making the movement of pilgrims between the holy sites, especially on peak day on Saturday, a major logistical challenge that Saudi authorities undertake every year.

Mount Arafat was a sea of white on Saturday, peppered with other colours, as the pilgrims, in their Ihram white special garments, and with many pilgrims carrying green, yellow, blue or red umbrellas to guard against the scorching sun, began as of sunrise on Saturday to move to Arafat to stand there in contemplation before God. This segment of the second day’s ritual is referred to as “Standing before God,” and is one of the most solemn of the pilgrimage.

According to a well-known Hadith of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) “Hajj is Arafat”. This saying underscores the fact that standing in Arafat is key ritual of Hajj, the major Islamic pilgrimage. Muslim scholars have interpreted this saying as meaning ‘Whoever misses the standing (in Arafat) has missed Hajj’.  

As part of the second day, the pilgrims also perform Sa’i, a key rite that involves walking back and forth seven times between Safa and Marwah hills near Kabaa in the Haram.

The pilgrims also perform prayers and listen to a sermon at Arafat’s 110,000-square-meter Masjid Namirah (Namirah Mosque) and the surrounding areas, which marks the location where Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) set camp before he delivered his final sermon.

Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is the most important spiritual journey in a Muslim’s life. This year, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has directed hosting under the program 200 pilgrims of the families of the victims and injured of the March 15 terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed more than 50 people and wounded dozens. Some 6,500 pilgrims from 79 countries traveled to Makkah as guests of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Guests Program for Hajj and Umrah, which is implemented by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance. The guests include Islamic figures such as preachers, scholars, muftis, and officials, as well as the families of martyrs and the injured.

Speaking in Makkah, Rachid Omar, a pilgrim from New Zealand, whose son Tariq was killed in the March 15 terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, said: “I feel…It’s healing. It’s a healing process. I feel like I’m at peace at the moment, because the surrounding here is…everything is very peaceful, everyone is very nice with each other and—yeah, it has been a lovely experience so far.”

Asked what were the first ideas that crossed his mind when he reached the boundaries of Makkah, Omar said: “At first I didn’t believe I was on a flight coming here to Saudi Arabia, to Makkah, because it was a childhood dream coming here. At first, all I was thinking about was all in my supplication to my deceased son and also for myself to have—to heal myself and my wife and my family. That’s my main intention, apart from the main—doing the obligation of the fifth Islamic pillar, doing the Hajj.”

On seeing the Kaaba for the first time, he said: “I burst into tears when I saw the Kaaba. Even from afar, when I saw the Kaaba. I burst into tears. I was thinking about my son. And also I was thinking about—I’ve been praying towards Kaaba all my life, and a few days ago, I’ve seen the real thing, and mashallah. It’s just indescribable, the feeling was so amazing, especially my first tawaf and when I touched the wall of Kaaba. It was an amazing feeling.”

On his neighbours’ reaction after the Christchurch attack, Omar said: “After the incident, the awareness of Islam is greater, there is more tolerance and also more interest of what Islam is all about, specially my friends and neighbors they want to know what Islam is all about, how we live our lives. To their surprise, we are no different than them, not much different the way we live our lives. So, they are really surprised, and they love it. The support in the massages that we received was really overwhelmed and I really appreciate that.”

Attending the Saturday prayers were Prince Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Makkah Region, and Chairman of the Central Hajj Committee; Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and President of Council of Senior Scholars and General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta. Imam; and HE the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Da’wah and Guidance Sheikh Dr. Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh. The Arafat sermon was delivered by Sheikh Mohammed bin Hassan Al Al-Sheikh, member of the Council of Senior Scholars.

After sunset on the 9th of Dhul Hijjah, the pilgrims start the trek to Muzdalifah, a holy site where they spend the evening praying and sleeping on the ground under the open sky. They also gather pebbles for the symbolic ritual of stoning the devil on the third day of Hajj.

Before embarking on Hajj, pilgrims perform rituals such as donning Ihram, or the special white garments, signifying purity and equality, declaring their intention to perform the major pilgrimage; walking seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba. Hajj started on Friday with Yawm Al Tarwiyah (Day of Quenching Thirst) with the performance of the first rituals, with pilgrims wearing the Ihram garments and heading to stay overnight in Mina, located between Makkah and Muzdalifah holy site, seven kilometers north-east of the Grand Mosque. Chanting “Labbeika Allahumma Labbeik”, the pilgrims began arriving on Friday morning at the Mina site to spend Yawm Al Tarwiyah, asking God for acceptance and forgiveness.

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