Hajj: Chief holy rite of gathering in Arafa begins amid rain, sandstorm

A view of Mount Arafa (file picture)

Mecca:   Haj prilgrims started on Monday the most important event of the Islamic pilgrimage of hajj – of gathering in the holy site of Mount Arafa.    The terrain of the sacred acres of Arafa  became a sea of humanity with pilgrims listening to the imam's sermon and praying to Allah for forgiveness and blessings.

Also called 'waqfa' (meaning standing deriving from the mandatory gathering of the pilgrims on the 9th day of the twelfth month of Dhul-Haj in the Islamic calendar),  the rite lasts with pilgrims staying there from the noon prayer till dusk within the demarcated area of Arafa.

The day however,  was marked by rains in the region, as forecast late Sunday, which put the two million-plus pilgrims gathered there,  including a large section of the aged and women,  to some invonvenience especially  with the prospect of crowding at their time of departure at dusk.

According to the forecast of the General Authority for Meteorology and Environment Protection, sandstorm and rain are likely to hit the holy sites and Mecca until Monday evening. 

Saudi Gazette reported Col. Muhammad Al-Qamash, spokesman of the Civil Defense Directorate as saying that Sunday’s sandstorm in Arafa did not affect the safety of pilgrims. “There were slight damages to a limited number of tents and they have been restored to the normal state. The overall situation at the holy sites is stable,” he said while urging pilgrims to follow safety instructions that have been issued by the authorities.

Saudi media including the English language daily Saudi Gazette reported dust storm accompanied by moderate rain in Arafa since Sunday evening.   The forecast for Monday had also included extreme temperature and high humidity.  

Al Arabiya TV channel and website showed video and still images drawn from social media of the Kaaba's Kiswa, an embroidered cloth that wraps around Islam's most sacred site in Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, being moved out of place due to the high winds in Mecca on Sunday evening.

The Kaaba was dressed in its new Kiswa on Monday,  the Day of Arafa as done every year. During the same day, the Grand Mosque in Mecca is usually empty because all the pilgrims are gathered at Mount Arafa where they will spend most of the day in prayers. Arafa gathering is the only one among the pillars of haj performed by all pilgrims at the same time.