ARAFAT (Saudi Arabia) • Two million Muslims gathered at Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat yesterday amid the summer heat and regional tensions for a vigil to atone for their sins and seek God's forgiveness as part of the annual haj pilgrimage.
Pilgrims clad in white robes signifying a state of purity spent the night in a sprawling encampment around the hill where Islam holds that God tested Abraham's faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ismail. It is also where Prophet Mohammad gave his last sermon.
Other worshippers who had been praying in the nearby Mina area ascended in buses or on foot from before dawn.
Some carried food, carpets for camping and fans to keep cool as temperatures rose towards 40 deg C.
Mr Zaid Abdullah, a 30-year-old Yemeni who works in a supermarket in Saudi Arabia, said he was praying for his own country, where war has killed tens of thousands of people and caused the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and for Muslims around the globe.
"We can tolerate the heat because our sins are greater than that," he said as he approached the granite hill also known as the Mount of Mercy. "We ask God to alleviate the heat of the hereafter. As for the heat of this life, we can bear it."
Taxi driver Khaled Maatouq said he was seeking an end to fighting in his native Libya: "I pray that God unites us."
Saudi Arabia has said more than two million pilgrims, mostly from abroad, have arrived for the five-day ritual, a religious duty once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey.
Among them are 200 survivors and relatives of victims of the attacks on two New Zealand mosques in March.
The pilgrims spent the day on Mount Arafat. By sunset, they were set to move to the rocky plain of Muzdalifa to gather pebbles to throw at stone columns symbolising the devil at Jamarat today, which marks the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.