Muslim pilgrims scale Mount Arafat for peak of Hajj Jul 31, 2020 0 363 12345 AFPMount ArafatMasked pilgrims scaled Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat Thursday to pray and repent in the climax of this year’s hajj, the smallest in modern times after massive crowds in previous years.A tight security cordon has been erected all around the foot of the rocky hill outside Mecca, also known as Jabal Al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy, for the high point of the annual ritual.Pilgrims, donning masks and observing social distancing as Saudi authorities enforce tough restrictions to prevent a coronavirus outbreak, embarked on the climb to the summit for Quran recitals and prayers to atone for their sins, state television showed.Sprayed with water sprinklers to beat the desert heat, the pilgrims raised their palms skywards as they climbed the slopes of the hill where Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad (PUBH) gave his last sermon. “I am so happy to be chosen among millions for the hajj this year,” Saudi pilgrim Wedyan Alwah said before setting off.“My lifetime dream has come true.”The scene was strikingly different to last year’s ritual when a sea of pilgrims ascended Mount Arafat.Pilgrims were earlier ferried in buses from neighbouring Mina and underwent temperature checks before attending a sermon in the local Namira mosque, which state media said was translated into 10 languages.After sunset prayers, they will make their way down Mount Arafat to Muzdalifah, another holy site where they will sleep under the stars to prepare for the final stage of hajj, the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.It takes place on Friday and also marks the beginning of Eid Al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice.The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.But only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom are participating in this year’s ritual, compared with 2019’s gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world.“You are not our guests but those of God, the custodian of the two holy mosques (Saudi Arabia’s King Salman) and the nation,” Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten said in a video released by the media ministry on Wednesday.Riyadh faced strong criticism in 2015 when some 2,300 worshippers were killed in the deadliest stampede in the gathering’s history. But this year, those risks are greatly reduced by the much smaller crowd.The pilgrims have all been tested for the virus, according to the authorities. Foreign journalists were barred from this year’s hajj, usually a huge global media event.As part of the rites completed over five days in the holy city of Mecca and its surroundings, the pilgrims converged on Mount Arafat after spending the night in Mina.They began the hajj on Wednesday with their first “tawaf”, the circumambulation of the Kaaba, a large structure in Mecca’s Grand Mosque towards which Muslims around the world pray. Pages 12 RELATED ARTICLES India registers 50,000 new daily virus cases for the first time Jul 31, 2020 0 362 Growing death toll from monsoon floods hampers South Asia virus efforts Jul 31, 2020 0 366 Philippines reports record daily high of coronavirus infections Jul 31, 2020 0 2086 Yemen’s rebels release Bahai leader previously condemned to death Sana’a Yemen’s rebels said on Thursday they had released the leader of the Bahai religious minority in the war-torn country, some seven years after he was detained. In March this year, a Yemeni court controlled by the .. Iran says jailed UK-Australian academic ‘in perfect health’ Tehran A British-Australian academic jailed in Iran is in “perfect health” and is going to meet Canberra’s envoy in Tehran next week, state news agency IRNA reported. Kylie Moore-Gilbert “is in perfect health and based .. Lebanon imposes new economic lockdown in bid to curb virus surge DPA Beirut Shops, banks and other businesses closed down across Lebanon on Thursday as part of new lockdown measures aimed at curbing a fresh surge in cases of the new coronavirus. Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi .. South Africa eases coronavirus curfew to help restaurant sector AFP Johannesburg South Africa is to ease its coronavirus curfew by an hour to help restaurants serve dinner, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said Thursday. Restaurants have been campaigning fiercely .. DR Congo launches mass vaccination against cholera Bukavu Health workers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have launched a bid to vaccinate more than a million people against cholera in five days after their region was hit by heavy floods. Immunisation teams have ..