Mount Arafat (Saudi Arabia), Sep 11: The annual hajj reached its high point today when Muslims from across the world converged on a stoney hill in Saudi Arabia, a year after the worst tragedy in the pilgrimage's history.
More than 1.8 million gathered from sunrise at the hill and a vast surrounding plain known as Mount Arafat, about 15 kilometres from Mecca. Against a backdrop of distant, higher peaks, they squatted, stood, or climbed steps built into the hill while reciting ritual incantations.
They will spend the most important day of the hajj in prayer and reading from the Koran. Arafat is the site where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed gave his last sermon about 14 centuries ago after leading his followers on the pilgrimage.
A non-stop flow disembarked from 18,000 buses, which authorities have mobilised. Others came on a Chinese-built yellow and green train which connects the holy sites. Under multicoloured parasols to protect against the burning sun, the mass of people moved through broad surrounding streets which are closed to traffic.
"It's the most beautiful moment of my life," a smiling Ahmed Salman, an Egyptian accountant, said.
"I am in the most beautiful place in the world, where more than one billion Muslims around the world dream of being." Around him, dozens of pilgrims chanted a traditional hajj incantation, "God, here I am."
From a distance, the hill appeared a snowy white from the seamless two-piece white garment, ihram, worn by male pilgrims. It symbolises a state of purity and emphasises their unity regardless of social status or nationality. Pilgrims come from every corner of the globe, but Indonesia -- the most populous Muslim nation -- has the largest contingent.