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Millions of Muslims ask forgiveness at haj climax
Sun Dec 7, 2008 5:18am EST
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By Inal Ersan
ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - More than two million Muslim pilgrims gathered around a mountain east of Mecca on Sunday at the peak of the haj to beg God's forgiveness, chanting "O God, I am answering your call!."
Pilgrims trickling to the area where they will pray until sunset set up thousands of tents in a vast plain.
"Being here is better than anything I had ever experienced ... better than the time I saw my children for the first time," said Rawya Mohammad, a secretary from Egypt.
Rawya was one of many who arrived before dawn, some on foot, others on buses and thousands on top of any vehicle they could find.
"I feel privileged. I am one in a million Muslims with the honor of performing pilgrimage this year. This is a reward," said Omar Salah, a 38-year-old engineer from Egypt.
The haj retraces the path of Islam's Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago after he removed pagan idols from Mecca, his birthplace, years after he started calling people to the new faith, now embraced by almost 1.7 billion people worldwide.
At Arafat, Muslims pray for forgiveness and for their own and fellow Muslims' welfare.
The pilgrims will later move under the night sky to Muzdalifa to collect pebbles to stone a set of walls symbolizing the devil.
"It will be sudden, at one moment everyone is sitting or standing then the sun starts to go down and they all will move in the same direction," said a prayer leader.
Some pilgrims said they would also pray for an end to the global financial crisis.
"The economic crisis is on the mind of most pilgrims. They are going to pray to God to alleviate the problem ... It's an unexpected crisis and the only solution is mercy from heaven," said Mohammad Fateh, who works for a brokerage in Egypt.
"The Arab and Muslim worlds are going to be affected by this crisis. I'll pray to God to lift this scourge," he said, adding that colleagues and investors had asked him to offer prayers on their behalf.
Despite a ban on political activities at haj, a senior Iranian cleric gave a speech at Arafat to a group of pilgrims, who chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel," Iran's state television showed.
Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri, head of Iran's haj mission, told the pilgrims some Muslims had despaired "in the face of Western civilization's onslaught" but that today there was a "resurgence of Islam."
JAMARAT BRIDGE Continued...
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