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Hajj nears climax for world’s Muslims

Close to 1.5 million Muslims from around the world prepared on Saturday night for the climax of the annual hajj pilgrimage at a rocky hill known as Mount Arafat.

The pilgrims marked yesterday with day-long prayers and recitals of the Koran holy book at the spot in western Saudi Arabia where they believe their Prophet Mohammed gave his last hajj sermon.

The numbers are down this year because of the absence of 64,000 Iranians over tensions between their Shiite nation and the Sunni-dominated kingdom.

Last year’s hajj stampede which killed roughly 2,300 people, many of them Iranians, magnified those frictions.

Masses of Iranian faithful held an alternative pilgrimage on Saturday in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, south of the Iraqi capital.

After preliminary rituals this week in Mecca at the Grand Mosque, the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia moved east on Saturday to the tent city of Mina and Mount Arafat.

They are following in the footsteps of their prophet who performed the same rituals about 1,400 years ago.

“It’s marvelous. I’m here closer to God. It’s an indescribable feeling,” said an Egyptian pilgrim who gave her name only as Louza, 45, as a helicopter monitored the throng.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which capable Muslims must perform at least once, marking the spiritual peak of their lives. (AFP)