As many as 2.37 million people are in Mecca for annual Hajj pilgrimage this year. As many as 1.76 million of these pilgrims were from outside of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) reported on Monday.
The largest percentage of those from outside Saudi Arabia reportedly traveled from Asian countries, other than Arab ones: 1.05 million and 59.7 percent of all. The share of pilgrims from African countries apart from Arab countries was 9.5 percent, with 166,083 people. Pilgrims from European countries made up 5 percent of the total with 88,601 people.
Last year, the total number of pilgrims was 2.35 million.
Every Muslim is expected to carry out the Hajj at least once in their life, unless their health or financial situation does not make it possible.
Nigeria state media reports that at least 55,000 Nigerians are part of the gathering.
The event at Mount Arafat features Pilgrims’ supplication for Allah’s guidance and forgiveness.
It also involves staying at Arafat from sunrise until sunset as a major rite of the pilgrimage.
Movement from Muna, where the pilgrims spent the night in tents, reportedly started as early as 12 midnight on Sunday and was completed at about 6 a.m.
Pilgrims were camped in the tents, fully equipped with cooling system, to alleviate the high temperature which sometimes rose to 44 degrees Centigrade.
Earlier at the inaugural movement of the pilgrims to Arafat, the Chairman, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar, said the Commission commenced the movement early to reduce the harsh effect of weather on them.
The NAHCON boss, who supervised the exercise, said its coordination and monitoring were done by committees set up by the commission.
He said NAHCON would continue to make innovations in organising pilgrimages, to ease difficulties of pilgrims.
Nigerian pilgrims are expected to hold a Congregational national prayer session later in the day.
Pilgrims stand on the plains of mount Arafat in supplication, praying to Almighty Allah to attain various needs in life and hereafter.
Observing the Arafat prayers is the strongest pillar of Hajj, in fact there is no Hajj without the Arafat.
Muslims believe prayer on this day at Mount Arafat, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the holy city of Mecca, is their best chance to erase past sins and start anew.
“Today is the most important part of the hajj, and we are all feeling great, and we pray for all Muslims in the world,” said Abdel-Munem Ali, a Libyan pilgrim.
Syrian pilgrim Mohammad Nezar said he was praying “to Allah to restore peace for people everywhere.”
Mohammad Neem, a Pakistani pilgrim, said he couldn’t find the words to describe his feelings. “This is the day to pray, and this is the right time to do that,” he added.
Around sunset, pilgrims will head to an area called Muzdalifa, which is 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) west of Arafat. Many walk, while others use buses. They spend the night there and pick up pebbles along the way that will be used in a symbolic stoning of the devil back in the city of Mina, where Muslims believe the devil tried to talk Ibrahim out of submitting to God’s will.
The kingdom has spent billions of dollars of its vast oil revenues on security and safety measures, particularly in Mina, where some of the hajj’s deadliest incidents have occurred.
The worst in recorded history took place only three years ago. On Sept. 24, 2015, a stampede and crush of pilgrims in Mina killed at least 2,426 people, according to an Associated Press count.
The official Saudi toll of 769 people killed and 934 injured has not changed since only two days after the tragedy. The kingdom has never addressed the discrepancy in the casualty toll, nor has it released any results of an investigation that authorities had promised to conduct over the disaster.
The five-day hajj pilgrimage represents one of the world’s biggest gatherings every year, and is required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life.
At the hajj’s end, male pilgrims will shave their hair and women will cut a lock of hair in a sign of renewal for completing the pilgrimage. Around the world, Muslims will mark the end of hajj with a celebration called Eid al-Adha. The holiday, remembering Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, sees Muslims slaughter sheep and cattle, distributing the meat to the poor.
Overnight, a sandstorm packing strong winds and thunderstorms roared through Mecca. Officials say the severe weather slightly damaged some tents housing pilgrims, but caused no injuries. They said further severe weather was possible through Monday.