World News / Haj News Updates > After spending a night in Mina, around 3 million Muslims headed to Mount Arafat to perform Wuquf-e-Arafat, the main rituals of the Haj, near the holy city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia.
Islam’s annual Hajj (pilgrimage) officially started Wednesday as 3 millions of pilgrims arrived this week in Makkah and then headed to Mina.
Wearing the simple white folds of cloth prescribed for haj, pilgrims in Mina spend their night in camps before heading to the plain of Arafat in early hours of Thursday.
Arafat is the most important part of the Hajj. It is a reminder of the Day of Judgement, where Muslims believe mankind will stand on a similar plain, in scorching heat, waiting for judgement.
It is also a reminder of another scene on the Day of Judgement. All humans will be grouped together with those of similar belief, just as those in Hajj often group together according to country, city and language.
Muslims spend the entire day in Arafat, praying to God and thinking over the purpose of their lives. It is an extremely emotional time.
Haj must be performed at least once in their lifetime by all Muslims capable of making the expensive, difficult journey, a duty that applies equally to Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.
Saudi leaders have emphasized it is a strictly religious occasion and they are prepared to deal with any troublemaking, including protests over the conflict in Syria.
“If anything happens it will be brought under control,” Interior Minister Prince Ahmed said after attending a Makkah march-past where troops paraded water cannon, teargas launchers and even truck-mounted machine guns.
Authorities are keenly aware of past episodes, such as in 1979, when attackers seized the Grand Mosque, beginning a two-week siege that left hundreds dead.
The minister played down the risks of politically motivated disruption. “I don’t think there will be any repercussion on the security of the pilgrimage as a result of what is unfortunately happening in Syria and elsewhere,” Prince Ahmed said.
Last year nearly 3 million pilgrims performed the haj, with roughly a third from inside the kingdom. The Saudi authorities said there have so far been 1.7 million arrivals from abroad and about 200,000 from inside Saudi Arabia.
Wednesday is the first official day of the pilgrimage, with Muslims following a set form of rites laid out by the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and culminating on Friday with the Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha, a holiday across the Islamic world.
The Saudi authorities have allotted specific period for each country’s pilgrims to conduct the ritual of stoning Satan at the Jamarat (pillars) in Mina aimed at decongesting the Jamarat and ensure the safety of pilgrims.
The Coordinator of National Hajj Commission in Mecca, Dr Aliyu Tanko said the commission has drawn out time table for the stoning, adding that it would also liaise with various state pilgrim boards to ensure the success of the exercise.
Over the past decade the Saudi government has spent billions of dollars expanding the Grand Mosque and building new infrastructure to avert the stampedes and tent fires that marred past pilgrimages with hundreds of deaths.
The last deadly stampede was in 2006, when 360 people were crushed to death. AGENCIES