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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hajj Faithful Told of Conspiracies

MOUNT ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia -- Raising their hands to the sky, about 2 million Muslim pilgrims prayed for salvation Wednesday at Mount Arafat, where Saudi Arabia's top Saudi cleric defended the Muslim nation against conspiracies from outside and within.

Many pilgrims' eyes welled with tears as they prayed on the most critical day of the hajj, an annual pilgrimage the faithful believe will wipe away their sins.

"Oh Muslim nation, there are campaigns waged against the people of Islam -- military campaigns, thought campaigns, economic campaigns, and media campaigns," Sheik Abdul-Aziz al Sheik, the kingdom's grand mufti, said at a mosque on the plain of Mount Arafat.

"They are all against this religion. The nation was described as a terrorist nation, that we are terrorists and backward," he said. "Conferences have been held and conspiracies have been woven, all unjustly and unfairly."

Al-Sheik urged worshippers to abide the words of God and his prophet and not be "fooled by a civilization known for its weak structure and bad foundation."

However, he also referred to the violent campaign waged by Muslim militants affiliated with al-Qaida against targets in the kingdom, which Saudi authorities have been battling for the past two years. Al-Sheik said the greatest test for the Muslim nation is its own sons gone astray, and he warned them not to be used by enemies of the nation to weaken it.

In recent decades, the hajj has been marred by hazards and stampedes. Helicopters hovered above the plain, dotted by pilgrims all the way to the peak of Mount Arafat. Men and women, otherwise not allowed to mix in the conservative kingdom, rubbed shoulders and stretched helping hands to each other as they climbed the uneven slope.