Muslims Pray at Mount Arafat During Peak of Hajj

Muslims Pray at Mount Arafat During Peak of Hajj

A Muslim pilgrim takes a photo with his mobile phone from atop a rocky hill called the Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015.

The annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia peaks Wednesday with 2 million Muslims packing the valley of Mount Arafat for a day of prayer.

The site is where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have given his final sermon about 1,400 years ago calling for equality and unity among Muslims.

Lasting five days, the hajj began Tuesday with pilgrims circling the Kaaba, a black cubic structure in Mecca's Grand Mosque toward which all Muslims pray.

From there they visit Mina before proceeding on to Mount Arafat.

Islam requires all able-bodied Muslims to perform the hajj once in a lifetime. The pilgrimage is among the five main pillars of Islam, which also include belief in the oneness of God and the Prophet Muhammad as his final messenger, five daily prayers facing toward the Kaaba, annual charity and fasting during the month of Ramadan.

For many, the hajj will be the highlight of their spiritual lives.

The pilgrims were undeterred by a construction crane collapse at Mecca's Grand Mosque earlier this month that killed 109 people, including foreign pilgrims.

About 400 people were injured by the crane, which was working on an expansion of Islam's holiest site.


Kerry: Russian Planes in Syria for 'Force Protection'

Russian Condor transport plane at Latakia, Syria (Photo by Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence and advisory firm based in Austin, Texas)

Secretary of State John Kerry says U.S. military experts believe the Russian planes sent to an air base in Syria are there for basic "force protection," intended to protect Russian soldiers and assets already on the ground.

But Kerry said Tuesday it is still not clear what Russia's long-term intentions are for boosting its military presence in Syria. He said if Russia is looking for a sphere of influence in the Middle East, it is going about it in a very odd way, by backing a Syrian government responsible for atrocities.

"Support for [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad is support for a Shia minority that has dropped barrel bombs on its people, that has gassed his own people, war crimes, that has starved his people, tortured his people," said Kerry.

Russia has said it wants to defeat Islamic State, but has refused to join the U.S.-led coalition that shares the same goal.

Kerry said he hopes Russia and Iran - another major Syrian ally - are prepared to work for peace in Syria.

"But if they [the Russians] are there to shore up Assad and to simply stand there in a way that provides Assad with a continued sense that he doesn't have to negotiate, that I think it's a problem for Syria...and for everybody who wans to bring an end to this conflict which has gone on for too long now," he said.

The United Nations envoy on Syria launched another effort Tuesday to open peace talks on Syria. Staffan de Mistura announced the heads of four "thematic" working groups. The plan calls for Syrian parties to participate in discussions within the groups looking at political and legal issues, military matters and counterterrorism.

The 2012 Geneva Communique on Syria sets out a road map for a democratic transition and remains the basis for a peaceful settlement.

It includes an interim government ahead of a democratic election. But the U.S. has said Assad has no place in Syria's future.

Also Tuesday, the Pentagon confirmed that U.S. coalition airstrikes killed two top extremists.

David Drugeon, a French convert to Islam, was killed on July 5 in Syria. Drugeon was a bombmaker and terrorist trainer with the al-Qaida affiliated Khorasan Group.

Another U.S. coalition airstrtike near Tal Afar in northern Iraq killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Turkmani on September 10.


Muslims Pray at Mount Arafat During Peak of Hajj Muslims Pray at Mount Arafat During Peak of Hajj Reviewed by Ajit Kumar on 7:12 PM Rating: 5

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