Nearly three million Muslim pilgrims have arrived at Mount Arafat where they will spend their time in prayer and reflection from sunrise to sunset.
The Arabic word Arafat means ‘wisdom’ therefore during the ritual pilgrims pray for knowledge and spiritual enlightenment and ask God for forgiveness.
Upon sunset, pilgrims will continue westward until they reach Muzdalifah also known as the ‘land of consciousness,’ which is located halfway between Mount Arafat and Mina,
They spend the night there to collect pebbles for the next stage of their journey, the Stoning of the Devil. The symbolic ritual is performed in the valley of mina where worshippers throw stones at the Jamarat pillars which represent the struggle with evil.
The first day of the stoning ritual marks the Eid al-Adha or the feast of sacrifice. The occasion commemorates Prophet Abraham’s decision to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to God.
Pilgrims will then head back towards Mecca to circumambulate the Ka’aba as the final stage of Hajj.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and every healthy Muslim who can afford the journey has to do it at least once during his or her lifetime.
An estimated number of 2.5 million pilgrims arrived in Mecca this year to officially start their Hajj rituals by going to Mina on November 14, 2010, or the eighth day of Dhul Hijja, the last month on the lunar calendar.
Saudi authorities say they have granted permits to 1.7 million foreign pilgrims, with about 200,000 issued to pilgrims from Saudi Arabia and neighboring Arab states.
The Saudi government has set stricter rules and provided pilgrims with more facilities and better transportation systems this year, AFP reported.
The first phase of the new Mashair Railway, or Mecca metro, will transport pilgrims between Mina and Mount Arafat through Muzdalifah this year.
The Jamarat Bridge, where pilgrims perform the ritual stoning, has also been expanded to five levels with movement channeled in one direction.
Saudi King Abdullah has appointed his second deputy prime minister Prince Nayef to oversee the Hajj since he is resting due to a herniated disc.