They arrived from Mina, some seven kilometres away - many by foot, others in buses and small vehicles and pick-ups - to the pilgrimage's most important site, in fine sunshine. 

"Here I am, Allah, answering your call; there is no God but you," the pilgrims, all dressed in white, chanted as they approached Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon 14 centuries ago.

Standing on Mount Arafat before sunset on Saturday is the high point of the Hajj, and pilgrims who fail to make it here on time must repeat their pilgrimage in future.

Many pilgrims headed straight for the 70-metre high Mount of Mercy (Jabal al-Rahma), where they will pray for mercy in a symbolic re-enactment of the Prophet's only pilgrimage. 

Sacrifice

Pilgrims spend the day praying for forgiveness and beseeching God for success before returning to Mina to sacrifice an animal, generally sheep, marking Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, which starts here on Monday. 

They will then spend two more days in Mina to take part in a symbolic stoning of the devil.

The Interior Ministry said Friday that 1,419,706 pilgrims had come from abroad, 16,083 less than last year. 

Hajj Minister Iyad Madani said they were expected to be joined by some 250,000 pilgrims from within Saudi Arabia, in addition to faithful from among Makka residents.

Tight security

The pilgrimage has taken place amid tight security measures
imposed by the Saudi authorities, who have warned that they will not tolerate any attempt to undermine security.

In early November, authorities said they had foiled a plot to attack pilgrims gathered in Makka during the fasting month of Ramadan and shot dead two "terrorists".

Six Saudi security men were shot dead by unknown gunmen on Thursday as they searched for arms and explosives in a suspect's home in Riyadh, 700 kilometres from Makka. The man was arrested in the operation, and his father killed.

The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is required of able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime if they have the financial means.