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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Pilgrims prepare for a hectic Hajj

Cars, buses and helicopters are drawing in a steady stream of worshippers, reports Naser Al Wasmi from Makkah
Muslim pilgrims line up to board a bus in the holy city of Makkah, bound for the tent-city of Mina, during the first day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. AFP

The preparatory rituals for Hajj require neither a set time nor do they ask the pilgrim to sleep in a specific place. But that all changes on Sunday night as two million pilgrims descend on Mina ahead of the first rites of passage.

The traffic is unlike any other experienced. Cars, buses and the odd helicopter draw in a steady stream of pilgrims converging from all around the world to the desert plain of Mina, which is located 20 kilometres away from The Sacred Mosque.

Pilgrims pour out of cars stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, opting for a more brisk walking pace instead of a one tyre rotation every minute.

For those arriving earlier in the day, it’s a steady trade-off between a painstakingly slow pace in an air-conditioned vehicle, or making their way faster to the tented city, albeit under a hot August sun.

Although not mandatory, it is preferred to spend the night in Mina before Waquf Arafat on Monday, where the specific rituals begin.

Hajj has its own-metered scale of success. Some will perform Hajj physically, but it does not count spiritually if they do so incorrectly.

“It’s preferred to stay in Mina the night before, but it’s not mandatory,” Muslim scholar Sheikh Isam said.

“Everything you do in Ihram increases or decreases your chances, smoking for example, is not preferred, so doing it in Ihram will reduce your chances of a successful Hajj,” he added.

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Read more from Naser Al Wasmi on Hajj:

Hajj travel tips: from visa dates to scams and a handy app

Hajj 2018 explained: two million Muslims descend on Makkah for a journey of a lifetime

Follow live updates from Hajj 2018

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Some pilgrims have arrived weeks in advance, performing Umrah, visiting Medina, praying or reading the Quran in its entirety, all in preparation for the next few days.

Monday will mark the pinnacle of Hajj. Muslims will stand on Mount Arafat and pray on the spot where the Prophet Mohammed gave his farewell sermon almost 1,400 years ago.

More than 2 million people will converge on a hill no larger than a football field and pray. That is the first event of Hajj that will require every pilgrim to be in the same place at a specific time, between noon and sunset.

“Well, you can take a car and never move, you can take the train and never leave, or you can walk, in the same way the prophet did, and reach it in time,” said a pilgrim, laughing.