ARAFAT (Dispatches) – Thousands of face-masked Muslims gathered on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat on Monday, praying for an end to the pandemic and faster vaccination as the annual hajj pilgrimage reached its climax.
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, has barred worshippers from abroad for a second year running and restricted entry from within the kingdom to guard against the coronavirus and new variants.
Only 60,000 Saudi citizens and residents, aged 18 to 65, who have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus and who do not suffer from chronic diseases, were selected for the rite, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.
“It is an indescribable feeling that I got selected among millions of people to attend the hajj. I pray for God to put an end to these hard times the whole world has gone through under the coronavirus,” said Um Ahmed, a Palestinian pilgrim who lives in the Saudi capital Riyadh and said she lost four family members to the virus.
At the Namira mosque, pilgrims sat two meters apart on their prayer mats, some shedding tears and others raising both hands as they prayed at noon.
Karimullah al-Sheikh, from India, said he was praying for his country, which has seen a surge in infections, to get rid of the virus and for everyone there to get vaccinated promptly.
Call for Mass Nationwide Anti-Regime Protests
Meanwhile, hundreds of Saudi political opponents, distraught with the recent online publication of pictures of the empty Grand Mosque complex in the holy city of Mecca next to crowded nightclubs in the kingdom, set fire to photos of the country’s leaders, calling for mass anti-regime protests on the Day of Arafah.
The murals of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son and the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), were targeted ahead of the nationwide demonstrations.
The Day of Arafah, which marks the second day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, is the holiest day in the Islamic calendar, and the day after that is the first day of the major Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice).
The anti-regime activists denounced what they described as the injustice of Saudi authorities, demanded the release of political prisoners, and called for an end to the intimidation and suppression of Saudis.
Among the Saudi opposition parties calling for nationwide protests against the ruling Al Saud regime on the Day of Arafah is a group called the “National Initiative for Change.”
It condemned the secularization of the Saudi Arabian society, and called for an end to “tampering with the religion” as well plans to “destroy the identity” of Saudi nationals under MBS.