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Muslims gather for climax of hajj pilgrimage

Mon, September 12, 2016   /   06:58 pm
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    In this Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 file photo, Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    In this Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 file photo, Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    In this Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 file photo, Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and try to touch Maqam Ibrahim or The Station of Abraham, the golden glass structure top right, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    In this Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 file photo, Muslim pilgrims touch the golden door of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    In this Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 file photo, Muslim pilgrims reach the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, to touch it for blessing at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    A Saudi security guard stands as Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    An elderly Indian woman leads her husband as they circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    Muslim pilgrim performs Wudu, a ritual washing before prayers, just outside the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    Saudi security rest before praying the Fajr, prayer before sunrise, outside the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    Muslim pilgrims pray the Fajr prayer before sunrise, outside the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    Muslim pilgrims arrive to circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    A child holds on to his father as he circles the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    A man holds his wife as they circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with some weeping with their hands outstretched for a fleeting touch of the Kaaba. The cube-shaped shrine, at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, is the site the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    An African man reaches the top of Noor Mountain, where Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from God to preach Islam, on the outskirts of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel is seen at center. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    Turkish woman prays on top of Noor Mountain, where Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from God to preach Islam, on the outskirts of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    Chechens pray atop of Noor Mountain, where Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from God to preach Islam, as Egyptians at right watch the view, on the outskirts of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel is seen at center. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    Turkish men visit Hiraa cave on Noor Mountain, where Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from God to preach Islam, on the outskirts of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    An African man reaches the top of Noor Mountain, where Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from God to preach Islam, on the outskirts of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving at the holiest sites in Islam ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel is seen at center. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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    Volunteers throw umbrellas to Muslim pilgrims before they climb Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat, during the annual hajj pilgrimage, ahead of sunrise near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Mount Arafat, marked by a white pillar, is where Islam's Prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his last sermon to tens of thousands of followers some 1,400 years ago, calling on Muslims to unite. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

Before dawn on Sunday, Muslim pilgrims from around the world began ascending a hill just outside Mecca where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon some 1,400 years ago.

The day spent on Mount Arafat is the pinnacle of the five-day hajj pilgrimage, which all able-bodied Muslims are required to perform at least once. Muslims spend the day there in deep prayer, many openly weeping as they repent and ask God for forgiveness.

Prayer on this day at Mount Arafat, about 20 kilometers [12 miles] east of Mecca, is believed to offer the best chance of erasing past sins and starting anew. Many Muslims who are not performing the hajj fast from dawn to dusk on this day, for similar reasons.

Many of the roughly 2 million pilgrims taking part in this year's hajj will climb a hill called Jabal al-Rahma, or mountain of mercy, in Arafat and spend time there in supplication. It was here where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon, calling for equality and for Muslims to unite.

The white terrycloth garments worn by men throughout the five-day hajj are forbidden to contain any stitching — a restriction meant to emphasize the equality of all Muslims and prevent wealthier pilgrims from differentiating themselves with more elaborate garments.

The day of Arafat is the one time during the hajj when roughly all pilgrims are in the same place at the same time. The site of people from more than 160 different countries, with all the men dressed in simple white garments, is breathtaking.

Egyptian pilgrim Mahmoud Awny said the feeling of being in Arafat is "indescribable."

"All Muslims on Earth wish they could have been here today. Thanks to Allah for enabling me to be here," he said.

The hajj is a physically and emotionally exhausting experience, and this year temperatures soared to 108 degrees Fahrenheit [42 C] in Arafat. Volunteers passed out water, juice and umbrellas to shade pilgrims from the sun.

Around sunset, the pilgrims will head to an area called Muzdalifa, nine kilometers [5.5 miles] west of Arafat. Many walk the route, while others use buses. They spend the night there, most in the open air huddled near one another, and pick up pebbles along the way that will be used in a symbolic stoning of the devil in Mina, where Muslims believe the devil tried to talk the Prophet Ibrahim — named Abraham in the Bible — out of submitting to God's will.

Here is a selection of images by Associated Press photographer Nariman El-Mofty showing the faithful in Arafat.

AP