Muslim Cleric Warns on Enemies at Hajj
By ALAA SHAHINE
MOUNT ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia (AP - 10 Feb) - At the sacred Mount Arafat, Saudi Arabia's
top cleric warned in a sermon that the enemies of Islam were seeking to
destroy the faith, as 2 million Muslim pilgrims completed the main ritual of
the annual hajj.
After the prayers at the hill outside Mecca, the crowds of faithful headed to
the next stage of the pilgrimage: collecting pebbles that they will use
Tuesday to throw at three pillars, symbolizing the stoning of the temptations
of the devil.
In an emotional sermon before midday prayers Monday at Namira mosque on Mount
Arafat, Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheik warned of the ``vast
troops'' of the ``enemies of Islam.''
He did not specify who those enemies were or directly refer to a possible
U.S.-led attack on Iraq, the crisis that has cast a shadow over the five-day
hajj. The pilgrimage is taking place under tight security because of fears of
protests against an Iraq war.
``The enemy has exposed its fangs and is fighting our religion and is doing
its best to drive Muslims away from their religion,'' al-Sheik said.
``Your enemy would not defeat you with its vast troops and equipment, but you
will be defeated if your faith is weakened,'' he said. ``You have no other
path (to victory), but to resort to God and turn your sayings into deeds.''
He said Saudis had tried in the past to spread Islam and God's word and were
accused of being terrorists.
``The nation is being targeted in its religion, morals and economy. It is
being targeted in its education curriculum, and they claim that the
curriculum calls for terrorism,'' al-Sheik said.
The conservative kingdom has come under increasing criticism since Sept. 11
terror attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the attacks were
Saudis, and Saudi Arabia's curriculum, which includes religious textbooks
that promote the kind of anti-Western sentiment espoused by Osama bin Laden,
has been criticized as encouraging terrorism toward the West.
About 500,000 pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia joined about 1.5 million
foreigners in this year's hajj.
Anti-U.S. sentiment is running high in the Muslim world because of the threat
of war against Iraq and American policies on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Many pilgrims have expressed anger or dismay at what they see as campaigns
against their faith.
``I hope that God destroys America for its support of the Israelis against
the Palestinians,'' said Najmuddin, a pilgrim from Afghanistan, where men
often use only one name.
Abdullah Younis, a Jordanian pilgrim, said: ``The Arab and the Muslim worlds
are suffering from a leadership crisis. Our leaders are mainly keen on
preserving their positions. We are about to receive a hard hit in a few weeks
(in Iraq) and nobody is moving.''
The day's rituals began with dawn prayers Monday at Mina, where most pilgrims
spent the night in white fireproof tents. They then made the short trek to
Arafat, a gentle plateau from which a small, rocky hill known as the Mountain
of Mercy rises.
Singing the pilgrim chant, ``At thy service, my God, at thy service,'' they
reached Arafat on foot, in buses and even clinging to the roofs of vehicles.
By midmorning, the arid plateau became an ocean of pilgrims, with men dressed
in identical seamless white garb and women covered except their hands and
Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it is required at least once to
perform the hajj - a centuries-old pilgrimage to Mecca, the birthplace of
Islam and its seventh-century prophet Muhammad.
``It is the seventh time I perform the hajj. The seventh time to witness this
scene, and I hope I can come again and again until I die,'' said Fawwaz
Adeola, 31, from Nigeria.
The time Muslims spend praying at Arafat, about 12 miles southwest of Mecca,
is believed to symbolize the day of judgment, when Islam says every person
will stand before God and answer for his deeds.
Muhammad delivered his last sermon at Arafat in March of 632, three months
before he died. Muslims believe that during this sermon, the last passage of
their holy book, the Quran, was revealed to Muhammad.
The pilgrims head next to nearby Muzdalifah, where they collect pebbles for
Tuesday's symbolic stoning of the devil.
The devil is represented by three pillars in Mina, just to the north in the
direction of Mecca. After performing the ritual, pilgrims may celebrate the
start of the Eid al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice, by slaughtering a camel, a
cow or a sheep.