- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

MINA, Saudi Arabia Exhausted but exhilarated by their spiritual journey, about 2 million Muslim pilgrims descended yesterday on this valley outside the holy city of Mecca for the symbolic stoning of the devil as the annual Muslim pilgrimage, or hajj, draws to a close.
Before leaving Mount Arafat, a plateau close to Mecca where Islam's 7th-century prophet addressed his young nation for the last time before his death, the pilgrims heard a moving sermon by Saudi Arabia's top cleric, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik.
Islam did not preach terrorism, he said, and branded what he called attempts to link the faith to terror as acts of "injustice and oppression."
"The enemies of Islam have offered a civilization that discriminates between members of the human race and violates pacts. It offers mass destruction weapons," said Sheik Al-Sheik, the kingdom's Muslim theologian.
His sermon, delivered to worshippers on an unusually hot February day, reflected the sense of siege felt in the Islamic world as the United States pursues a war on terror that is widely seen by Muslims as a battle against their faith.
Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally for more than 50 years, has condemned the September 11 terror attacks on America. But differences over Washington's war on terror and its Mideast policies appear to have strained relations in recent months.
Officials in both Washington and Riyadh, however, insist that their relations remain deep and strong.
"Islam orders the respect of people's rights, money, honor and lives … and instructs against killing children, women and the unarmed," Sheik Al-Sheik said in an apparent condemnation of suicide bombings by militant Palestinians against Israelis and the airborne September 11 attacks blamed on Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terror network.

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