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Pilgrims scale Mount Arafat in high point of biggest Covid-era Haj

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Huge crowds of pilgrims started praying on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat early on Friday, the high point of the biggest Haj pilgrimage since the pandemic forced drastic cuts in numbers for two years in a row.

The worshippers, capped at one million including 850,000 from abroad chosen by lottery, spent the night at camps in the valley of Mina, seven kilometres from Makkah’s Grand Mosque.

In the early hours of Friday, they converged on Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) delivered his final sermon, for the most important of the Haj rituals.

They will stay all day at the site, praying and reciting the Quran.

Pilgrims gather on Mount of Mercy at the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. — Reuters
Pilgrims gather on Mount of Mercy at the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. — Reuters

After sunset, they will head to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they will sleep under the stars before performing the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ceremony on Saturday.

This year’s Haj is taking place against the backdrop of a resurgence of Covid-19 in the region, with some Gulf countries tightening restrictions to keep outbreaks in check.

All participants were required to submit proof of full vaccination and negative PCR tests. Upon reaching Mina on Thursday, they were handed small bags containing masks and sanitisers.

Pilgrims walk under sprinklers as they make their way for prayers outside the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's Makkah. — AFP
Pilgrims walk under sprinklers as they make their way for prayers outside the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s Makkah. — AFP

The Haj, usually one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings, is among the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.

In 2019, some 2.5 million Muslims from around the world took part, as in previous years.

But the coronavirus outbreak has since forced Saudi authorities to dramatically downsize the Haj. Just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom participated in 2021, up from a few thousand in 2020.

Sun and tears

The pilgrimage can be physically draining even in ideal conditions, but worshippers this year have faced an added challenge: scorching sun and temperatures rising to 42 degrees Celsius.

Islam forbids men from wearing hats once the rites start, and many have been seen shielding themselves with umbrellas, prayer mats and even, in one case, a small bucket filled with water.

Women, meanwhile, are obliged to cover their heads with scarves.

On the mountain Friday morning, many of the worshippers wept as they prayed, and carried umbrellas in preparation for the high temperatures later in the day.

Pilgrims gather on Mount of Mercy at the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. — Reuters
Pilgrims gather on Mount of Mercy at the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. — Reuters

Extreme conditions

“We can tolerate (the heat). We are here for the Haj. The more we tolerate, the more our pilgrimage is accepted,” Laila, a 64-year-old Iraqi pilgrim who gave only her first name, told AFP in Makkah before reaching the mount.

Pilgrims gather on Mount of Mercy at the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. — Reuters
Pilgrims gather on Mount of Mercy at the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj, outside the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. — Reuters

Saudi officials have touted their preparations for the extreme conditions, highlighting the hundreds of hospital beds allocated for heat stroke patients and the “large number of misting fans” they have provided.

A truck has also been allocated to distribute umbrellas, water bottles and small fans.

Nevertheless, the National Centre for Meteorology, which has set up an office in Mina, is sending warnings to pilgrims on their mobile phones, urging them to avoid outdoor rituals at certain times of the day, especially at noon.

Pilgrims pray on Mount of Mercy at the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj. — Reuters
Pilgrims pray on Mount of Mercy at the plain of Arafat during the annual Haj. — Reuters

On Saturday, pilgrims will take part in the “stoning”, the last major ritual of this year’s Haj.

This ritual has in past years led to deadly stampedes, as hundreds of thousands of participants converge on a small space.

After the stoning ritual, pilgrims return to the Grand Mosque in Makkah to perform a final “tawaf” or circling of the Kaaba. Eidul Azha marks the end of Haj.

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Moody’s says the IMF programme will increase Pakistan’s foreign financing.

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Moody’s, a reputable international rating agency, has stated that Pakistan’s chances of acquiring funding will increase as a result of the recent agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which offers dependable sources for that purpose from both friendly countries and international financial institutions.

According to a recent Moody’s analysis on Pakistan’s economy, social unrest and tensions could result from Pakistan’s ongoing inflation. The country’s economic reforms may be hampered by increased taxes and potential changes to the energy tariff, it continued.

Moody’s, on the other hand, agrees that the coalition government headed by Shehbaz Sharif of the PML-N is in danger of failing to secure an election mandate, which may potentially undermine the successful and long-lasting execution of economic reforms.

The government’s capacity to proceed with economic changes may be hampered by societal unrest and poor governance, according to Moody’s.

In order to appease the IMF by fulfilling a prerequisite for authorising a rescue package, the government raised the basic tariff on electricity, which coincided with the most recent increase in fuel prices announced on Monday. This report was released by Moody’s.

Food costs have increased in the nation, where the vast majority is experiencing an unprecedented crisis due to the high cost of living, following the government’s earlier presentation of a budget that included a large increase in income tax for the salaried classes and the implementation of GST on commodities like milk.

The most recent comments were made following Islamabad’s achievement of a staff-level agreement for a $7 billion contract that spans 37 months and is contingent upon final approval by the IMF Executive Board.

It states that Pakistan will need foreign financing totaling about $21 billion in 2024–2025 and $23 billion in 2025–2026, meaning that the country’s present $9.4 billion in reserves won’t be sufficient to cover its needs.

Therefore, according to Moody’s, Pakistan is in an alarming position with regard to its external debt, and the next three to five years will be extremely difficult for the formulation and implementation of policies.

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Accepting provisional respite: Sanam Javed and family relocated to KP House

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Sanam Javed, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and her family have moved into KP Home, an Islamabad guest home.

As a result of the Islamabad High Court’s order to postpone her arrest until Thursday, Sanam Javeed is currently free.

Records of cases filed against her have also been sought by the court.

As instructed by Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur of KPK, the PTI leader and her family were received at the KP House. The CM communicated with Ms. Javeed’s father and husband.

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Adiala Jail is visited by a NAB team to question Khan and Bushra Bibi.

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As per a recent Toshakhana reference, a team from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has reached Adiala Jail with the intention of probing PTI founder Imran Khan and his spouse PTI Bibi.

The NAB team questioning Khan and Bushra Bibi is led by deputy director Mohsin Haroon, according to jail sources.

Regarding the latest corruption reference, the pair is behind bars. Today is the third day that the NAB team has been looking into them.

They answered questions from the NAB team for more than three hours on Monday.

After the fresh reference, Khan and Bushra Bibi were placed under physical remand for eight days by Judge Muhammad Ali Warraich of the Accountability Court.

See Also: Imran Khan and Bushra Bibi are detained in NAB prison for eight days in connection with the Toshakhana case

The release of Khan and Bushra Bibi in the Iddat case was earlier ordered by District and Sessions Judge Afzal Majoka, who also postponed their sentences.

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