Thousands of pilgrims ‘stone the devil’ as packed Hajj winds down

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Pilgrims cast stone in the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual during the Hajj pilgrimage, in Mina near Makkah on Saturday. AP

Thousands of Muslim pilgrims cast pebbles in the “stoning of the devil” ritual marking the start of the Eid Al Adha holiday on Saturday, as a Hajj pilgrimage that drew 900,000 visitors began winding down.

Enormous crowds of white-robed worshippers thronged Mina, near the Holy City of Makkah, for the stoning ritual where each threw seven pebbles at three large concrete walls representing Satan (evil). No health or safety incidents were reported.

“We thank God the Almighty that we saw the pilgrims of his house, from different countries of the world, performing their rituals with ease,” tweeted Saudi King Salman.

The pilgrims threw stones that they had collected in nearby Muzdalifah. The Hajj started on Wednesday at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Islam’s holiest site, before an overnight stay in tents and prayers on Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is believed to have delivered his final sermon.

Hajj-stonning A girl casts stone in the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual. AP

After the stoning ritual, pilgrims return to Makkah to perform a farewell “tawaf” — circling seven times around the Holy Kaaba, the large black cube at the Grand Mosque that is the focal point of Islam.

‘Eid Mubarak’

An hour after sunrise on Saturday, the Kaaba was already surrounded by circumambulating pilgrims, while others at the Grand Mosque prayed on the first day of Eid.

Facing the mosque, the Makkah Clock Tower — one of the world’s tallest buildings —displayed the message “Eid Mubarak” (blessed Eid) in green. Eid Al Adha, the feast of the sacrifice, marks the end of the Hajj.

Hajj-prayers Muslim pilgrims pray during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual. AP

Muslims across the world celebrate the holiday, buying livestock for slaughter to commemorate the willingness of Hazrat Abraham (ASW) to sacrifice his son to show obedience to Allah.

The Hajj, usually one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings, is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives. In 2019, some 2.5 million Muslims from around the world took part.

But that figure slumped to only a few thousand in 2020 and 60,000 in 2021, all of them Saudi citizens or residents, as the kingdom tried to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hajj-stonning2 A pilgrim casts stone in the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual. AP

This year, participation was capped at one million fully vaccinated worshippers. Authorities said Friday that almost 900,000 were in attendance, nearly 780,000 of them from abroad.

Coronavirus fears

Hosting the pilgrimage is a matter of prestige and a powerful source of political legitimacy for Saudi rulers, the custodians of Islam’s holiest sites.

Barring overseas pilgrims for the past two years had caused deep disappointment among Muslims worldwide, who typically save for years to take part.

The Hajj, which costs at least $5,000 per person, and umrah pilgrimages that occur at other times of the year are a major engine of Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector.

Hajj-Security A security personnel directs pilgrims during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mina. AP

The large crowds have spurred fears that COVID-19 will spread, especially after many pilgrims remained maskless against the orders of Saudi authorities.

All participants were required to submit proof of vaccination and pilgrims visiting from abroad also had to provide negative PCR tests.

All Muslims who are physically and financially able to complete the spiritual journey are supposed to do so at least once in a lifetime. Saudi Arabia maintained limits to curb the spread of the virus this year, with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and attendance less than half of pre-pandemic quotas.

Since the start of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has registered more than 795,000 coronavirus cases, over 9,000 of them fatal. Some 67 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country of over 34 million people.

Agence France-Presse / AP

 

 

 

 

 

 

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