MOUNT ARAFAT - Pilgrims ascended Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia on Monday for the climax of the annual Haj which brings together more than two million people from around the world.

Carrying brightly coloured umbrellas under the blazing sun, a sea of worshippers scaled the rocky hill southeast of the holy city of Makkah for a day of prayers and repentance.

Arms raised, pilgrims repeated “There is no God but Allah” and “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).

“The feeling is indescribable,” said Umm Ahmad, 61, who made the trip from Egypt.

Some of the pilgrims - men in white seamless garments and women in loose dresses - pushed elderly relatives in wheelchairs on the second day of the Haj, one of the world’s largest annual gatherings.

“It feels great,” said 37-year-old Pakistani Jai Saleem. “I have always seen this area, since my childhood, in photographs and on television,” he said, adding that he cried when he and his wife arrived on Mount Arafat .

Workers were hurriedly picking up empty water bottles near a yellow sign that read “Arafat starts here” in both English and Arabic.

“We know that it’s a difficult task,” said Amna Khan, a 35-year-old American Muslim pilgrim. “That’s why we are all here. We’re doing this to get closer to Allah, to be absolved.”

A hot wind blew across the hill, also known as Jabal al-Rahma (Mount of Mercy), and the surrounding plain after a downpour late Sunday. Many faithful could be seen sipping from bottles of water.

“I knew it would be a little hard to climb Mount Arafat ,” said Nigerian pilgrim Saidou Boureima. “So I prepared for this challenge by working out. And God willing, we can see it through.”

After sunset, the pilgrims left for nearby Muzdalifah where they will gather pebbles to perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.

Saudi Imam Dr Sheikh Hussein bin Abdul Aziz delivered the Haj sermon at Masjid-e-Nimra. Sheikh Aziz urged Muslims to practice the teachings of the holy prophet (Peace be upon him). “Oh Muslims, be God-fearing. Tauheed (oneness of Allah) is the foundation of Islam’s glory so do not commit shirk (polytheism),” he said in his sermon. “All prophets of Allah invited humanity to tauheed, and believing in it will be the path of success.”

Sheikh Aziz urged Muslim youth to stay away from violence and mischief. He called upon them to strengthen their relationship with Allah and play their due role for peace in the society.

“Give respect and importance to your parents and teachers. Strengthen your relation with the holy Quran. Islam forbids us from indulging in sins. It propagates harmony and brotherhood amongst Muslims,” he said.

The imam said rule of law and justice are the hallmarks of an Islamic society. He said Allah likes those who are honest, give Zakat and are charitable.

The day of Arafat marks the culmination of Haj. It is a reminder of the day of the judgment when mankind will stand on a plain in scorching heat, waiting for judgment.

On the hill of Arafat, where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) delivered his final sermon, a sea of worshippers scaled the rocky mount of Arafat southeast of Makkah for a day of prayers and reflection.

After the sunset, the pilgrims left for nearby Muzdalifah where they gathered pebbles to perform ‘Rami’, the symbolic stoning of the devil.

Eid will be celebrated on August 21 in Saudi Arabia and on August 22 in Pakistan.

The Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.

The Haj has at times been a point of controversy, following an incident in 1987 in which Saudi police crushed an Iranian protest during the pilgrimage against the United States and Israel. The clashes killed 402 people, including 175 Iranians, according to Saudi authorities.

Iran boycotted the Haj in 2016, following a deadly stampede the year before which left some 2,300 dead, hundreds of them Iranian. Tehran sent its pilgrims to Makkah in 2017, and the Haj this year includes 86,000 Iranians, according to Makkah Governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal.

Prince Khaled has also said this year’s Haj includes 300 pilgrims from Qatar, a neighbouring emirate hit by a major Saudi-led boycott.

Saudi Arabia - the world’s largest exporter of oil - and its allies accuse Qatar of cosying up to both extremists and Iran, Riyadh’s main rival. They have cut all ties with Qatar - which denies the charges - and banned all flights to and from Doha.