September 02 , 2017


Two million Muslim pilgrims mark final Hajj rite with 'stoning of devil'

MAKKAH: Two million Muslims pilgrims from around the world took part Friday in the symbolic stoning of the devil in Saudi Arabia, with tight security measures in place two years after a deadly stampede.

The ritual at the Jamarat Bridge in Mina near Makkah marks the final major rite of Hajj, a five-day pilgrimage which all Muslims must perform at least once if physically and financially able.

The stampede in Mina in 2015 claimed the lives of 2,300 people – the worst disaster in the history of Hajj.

Saudi Arabia says it has deployed more than 100,000 security personnel to keep pilgrims safe this year. The huge crowds took part in the stoning rite under strict surveillance, with police tape guiding the flow of pilgrims, cameras installed everywhere and helicopters hovering overhead.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims made their way toward a massive multi-story complex in Mina after dawn on Friday. It is here where Muslims believe the devil tried to talk the Prophet Ibrahim (AS) out of submitting to God’s will.

Traditionally, seven pebbles are thrown at a post representing the devil, emulating the actions of Hazrat Ibrahim (AS).

Clad in seamless pieces of white cloth, the pilgrims, chanted “Allah-u Akbar” (God is the Greatest) each time they cast a pebble. Their snow-white garments symbolise equality, religious unity and pursuit of spiritual renewal.

Since 2004, it has been replaced by walls to accommodate the rising numbers of pilgrims.

Security forces misted pilgrims with water as they made their way to the Jamarat Bridge under the hot sun. By 8am, pilgrims were already reaching for their umbrellas as temperatures rose above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).

After finishing the stone-throwing ritual on the first day of Eidul Azha, male pilgrims traditionally shave or cut their hair and change out of their seamless robes. Women cut a lock of their hair. Male and female pilgrims then go to Makkah again walk all the way around the Kaaba. Observant Muslims around the world face toward the Kaaba during the five daily prayers. Later in the day, they return to Mina to stay overnight and throw stones for two more days.

For many, the pilgrimage has been a lifelong dream. Amin Hashkir, a 26-year-old from Casablanca in Morocco, travelled to western Saudi Arabia, home of the holiest sites in Islam, together with his sister and mother, who was unable to physically perform the stoning rite herself.

“My father passed away in 2011, and we’ve been trying to make it here ever since to perform Hajj for him,” Hashkir explained on a sidewalk in Mina, near Makkah. “It was what he felt was missing from his life”.

Hashkir’s mother was also counting on her son to fulfil her dream of Hajj. “My mother is sick, so I offered to throw the stones for her.”

The huge crowds, many holding umbrellas to shield them from the sun, took part in the stoning rite under strict surveillance.

“It’s different every year,” said Najat Malik, 45, a Sudanese Red Crescent employee who travelled from Khartoum for Hajj.

“Some years there are less pilgrims because of fears and warnings of disease. But this year, I feel like there are a lot more people here.”

By Friday afternoon, temperatures had reached 41 degrees Celsius (106 Fahrenheit), with many suffering from dehydration or heat exhaustion.

“Two pilgrims fainted in front of me this morning,” said Almas Khattak, a Pakistani volunteer in Mina. At the bridge, an elderly woman had collapsed onto a stretcher as her relatives tried to revive her, splashing her face with water before calling for assistance.

The shadow of the 2015 stampede still looms large over the ritual.

Iran, which reported the largest number of victims in the disaster, did not send its pilgrims to Hajj last year, as political tension between Tehran and rival Riyadh was on the rise and authorities in the two countries failed to agree on logistics.

Iranian authorities say more than 86,000 Iranian pilgrims are taking part this year, each equipped with an identity bracelet in case of any accident.

The stoning ritual marks the first day of the Eidul Azha, or the feast of sacrifice, which commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son. The holiday is marked by the sacrifice of a lamb instead by Muslim communities around the world.


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