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Monday Sep 25, 2017, Muharram 4, 1439 Hijri
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Muslim pilgrims to set aside politics during Hajj: Sheikh Saad al-Shathri

01 September, 2017

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MAKKAH: Around two million Muslims gathered Thursday on Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat for the highlight of the Hajj pilgrimage, one of the world's largest annual gatherings. Sheikh Saad al-Shathri, a senior Saudi cleric, delivered a midday sermon denouncing terrorism and violence against civilians.

"Sharia came to preserve the security of nations and cultivate benevolence in (people's) hearts," he said, referring to the Islamic legal and moral code derived from the teachings of the Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

He urged pilgrims to set aside politics during Hajj and come together with fellow Muslims.

"This is no place for partisan slogans or sectarian movements which have resulted in great massacres and the displacement of millions," he said.

Still, violence in the Middle East, including wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, and other global hotspots are sure to be on the minds of many pilgrims, who will spend the rest of the day on Mount Arafat.

By sunset they will move to the rocky plain of Muzdalifa to gather pebbles to throw at stone columns symbolising the devil at another location called Jamarat on Friday, which marks the first day of Eidul Azha (feast of sacrifice).

With temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius under the desert sun, the faithful climbed the hill east of Makkah where Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave his last sermon some 14 centuries ago.

The second day of Hajj - a five-day pilgrimage that 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 Hajj has seen the return of pilgrims from Saudi Arabia's arch-rival Iran following a diplomatic row and a deadly stampede in 2015.

But thousands who would normally make the journey from neighbouring Qatar are absent apart from a few dozen because of the diplomatic crisis shaking the Gulf.

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.

 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

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