Millions of Muslim pilgrims congregated at Arafat outside Mecca on Wednesday, many of them praying for peace in the Middle East countries ravaged by war and chaos as the annual haj reached its climax.
"What is left of our Arab nation? Iraq was the symbol of power and civilization. What happened to it now? Look at Syria: the refugees are greater in number than the pilgrims here," said Egyptian Muhammad Rizq, 65.
Haj is a duty for all Muslims at least once in their lives if they can afford it, and for many of the faith's 1.6 billion adherents it represents a moment of supreme spiritual worth that was reflected in the joy expressed at Arafat.
"I wish everyone could come here. I am sure they would leave with a good heart because here Islam was born," said Abdullah, a Chinese convert to Islam.
The rocky areas of Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah a few kilometers east of Mecca are the main sites of haj, which culminates with Thursday's Eid al-Adha holiday, and are the location of rituals laid out by the Prophet Muhammad.
As early as Tuesday night, thousands of pilgrims left the haj camp at Mina and started climbing the low, rocky Mount Arafat where they will remain until sunset on Wednesday.
One old woman crawled up its steep slopes on hands and knees. Others scrawled their names on the rocks with pen to mark their presence.
But along with joy, many pilgrims also felt sadness and anger as the woes of the Muslim world weighed heavy on their minds.
Since the 2011 Arab uprisings, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have collapsed into civil war, Libya is paralyzed by conflict and refugee crises have upended life for many in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Egypt remains politically fragile and Palestinians still have no state.