Muslim pilgrims climb Mount Arafat for peak of hajj
Muslim pilgrims began ascending Mount Arafat for the climax of the annual hajj pilgrimage on Monday, which brings together more than two million people from around the world.
A sea of worshippers scaled the rocky hill southeast of the holy city of Mecca for a day of prayers and reflection where Muslims believe Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon.
Some of the pilgrims - men in white seamless garments and women in loose dresses - pushed elderly relatives in wheelchairs on the second day of the hajj, one of the world's largest annual gatherings.
A hot wind blew across the hill, also known as Jabal al-Rahma (Mount of Mercy), and the surrounding plain after a downpour late on Sunday. Many faithful could be seen sipping from bottles of water under the scorching desert sun.
After sunset, the pilgrims will leave for nearby Muzdalifah where they will gather pebbles to perform the symbolic "stoning of the devil” marking the end of their holy pilgrimage.
The ritual begins in earnest on Tuesday as Muslims observe the first day of Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the hajj.
Muslims traditionally slaughter sheep for the three-day Eid al-Adha, a tribute to the prophet Abraham's sacrifice of a lamb after God spared Ishmael, his son.
Some of the meat is consumed and the rest is distributed to the poor around the world.
The hajj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in their lifetime, if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.
The ultra-conservative kingdom, which has launched sweeping social and economic transformation programmes under the helm of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has mobilised vast resources for the six-day journey.
Tens of thousands of security personnel have been deployed for the pilgrimage, which was struck by its worst ever disaster three years ago when around 2,300 worshippers were crushed to death in a stampede.
The Saudis have also launched a "smart hajj" initiative this year, with apps to help pilgrims with everything from travel plans to medical care.
On Saturday, the interior ministry said the number of pilgrims arriving in Mecca had already surpassed the two million mark, mostly from abroad including large contingents from Egypt, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
This year's pilgrimage comes with the oil-flush kingdom witnessing unprecedented change and rights campaigners expressing alarm about a crackdown on dissent.
Critics have also charged Riyadh with politicising the religious rite. On Saturday, Qatar accused Saudi Arabia of barring its citizens from this year's hajj pilgrimage amid a year-long blockade imposed on the Gulf state by a Saudi-led coalition.
Around 1,200 Qataris are eligible to perform hajj under a quota system but Qatar says it has become impossible to obtain permits.
The Saudi government sets quotas for the number of citizens from each country who can perform the hajj every year, and the countries decide how the quota is filled, though the process can be rife with corruption and inequity.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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