MECCA: Muslims from around the world hurled pebbles at a giant wall in a symbolic stoning of the devil yesterday, as part of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Nearly 2.5 million pilgrims, mostly from abroad, have arrived for the five-day ritual. They are asked to follow carefully orchestrated schedules for each stage of Haj.
Tens of thousands of security forces and medics are deployed alongside modern technology including surveillance drones to maintain order.
Carrying pebbles in the scorching heat, worshippers made their way across Mina Valley near Mecca in western Saudi Arabia to symbolically “humiliate” the devil.
Under the watchful eyes of security forces, waves of pilgrims clad in white threw seven stones each at a pillar symbolising Satan. They converged on Jamarat to perform the stoning ritual from a three-storey bridge erected to ease congestion.
They will return to the bridge over the next two days for more stoning before returning to Mecca to pray at the Grand Mosque at the end of Haj.
“It is hot, I drink a lot of water and I am still hidden under my umbrella,” said Jaker Akjar, a 48-year-old Indian pilgrim, sporting a henna-dyed beard.
This was Akjar’s first Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam that every Muslim is required to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.
Muslim tradition holds that pilgrims must throw seven stones each at a pillar representing Satan on the first day of Eid Al Adha, following two days of prayer and meditation.
“I am well equipped and ready” to fight the devil, said Umar, a 33-year-old Saudi engineer, carrying pebbles in a plastic bottle.
Confectioner Alaa Watad from Syria’s Idlib province, the last major rebel enclave in the country’s civil war, said his hometown was “drenched in blood”.
“We pray to God from the bottom of our hearts to bring relief to us and to Syria,” said Muhammad Al Jarak, another pilgrim from Idlib.
Ambulances are mobilised to assist the faithful, cameras follow their movement and helicopters constantly fly over the valley of white tents that only comes alive once a year during the Haj.
Large fans sprayed water over the crowd amid soaring temperatures.
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received well-wishers yesterday afternoon at a palace gathering attended by royals, clerics, military leaders, ministers and distinguished guests to mark the first day of Eid Al Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.
Saudi Arabia has “fulfilled its duty for the sake of Allah and welcomed the guests of Allah without exception and provided them with all the services needed to perform their Haj ritual with ease, comfort, security and tranquillity,” the 83-year-old monarch said in a televised speech.
Muslims traditionally slaughter sheep for the three-day holiday in tribute to the Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice of a lamb after God at the last moment spared Ishmael, his son.
They consume some of the meat and give the rest to poor people unable to buy food.
Pilgrims can purchase coupons from the Saudi government, which organises the slaughter and freezing of the meat to avoid public health problems.
After the stoning ritual, pilgrims return to the Grand Mosque in Mecca to perform a final “tawaf” or circling of the Kaaba.
The Kaaba is a cube structure that is the focal point of Islam and draped in a gold-embroidered black cloth.