MECCA – Two million Muslims ritually stoned the devil in the last major rite of this yearâ€™s haj in Saudi Arabia, while fellow believers around the world celebrated Aidiladha, the feast of sacrifice.
The stoning took place yesterday in the Mina valley, about five kilometres east of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca.
All roads leading to the town, which only comes to life during the days of haj, were blocked as the crowds dressed in white flowed into the area to toss pebbles at one of three walls representing Satan.
Security officers formed a human chain around the wall as pilgrims tried to push forward.
For Mohsen al-Omar, sweat running down his face, hardship from the heat and the crowds only added to â€œthe joy of carrying out the ritesâ€.
Omar, from Al-Qassim in Saudi Arabiaâ€™s north, joined the stoning ceremony with his wife Samira Ajluni.
The pilgrims will stone two other sites today and tomorrow as the haj concludes.
They collected the stones at Muzdalifah on the way to Mina for the ritual, which emulates Abraham, who is said to have stoned the devil at three locations when he tried to dissuade Abraham from Godâ€™s order to sacrifice his son.
Pilgrims had moved to Mina overnight Friday on foot, motorbikes and buses from Mount Arafat after the haj reached its zenith with a day of prayer, as well as tears by pilgrims moved by the sanctity of the spot where Prophet Muhammad gave his final sermon 14 centuries ago.
After their day on the vast plain of Arafat and the hill which bears its name, the believersâ€™ white costumes bore brown dirt stains.
Male pilgrims wear a seamless two-piece white â€œihramâ€ outfit, while women also generally wear white.
With the end of the haj approaching, men shaved their heads before taking off their ihram clothes, leaving locks scattered on the ground. Women cut off small strands of their hair.
In conjunction with the stoning, the haj faithful offer sacrifices by slaughtering a sheep, whose meat goes to the needy.
Nowadays, pilgrims do not carry out this rite themselves but pay agencies which distribute the meat to Muslims in many countries.
A total of about 1.5 billion Muslims around the world were also celebrating Aidiladha.
From Lagos to Kabul, Manila to Moscow, Muslims took part in events to commemorate Prophet Abrahamâ€™s readiness to sacrifice his son.
Goats, sheep and cows were slaughtered and prayers were held at mosques and in parks.
In the Palestinian territories and Israel, Muslims and Jews marked holy days within a short distance of each other as Aidiladha coincided for the first time in three decades with the Jewish fast of Yom Kippur.
Hundreds gathered for prayers in front of the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem amid a security lockdown.
This yearâ€™s haj attracted just over two million believers, including almost 1.4 million from abroad, according to statistics published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The balance of almost 700,000 came from within the kingdom.
These numbers are roughly the same as last year.
The haj has drawn a cross-section of humanity, ranging from presidents â€“ Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir was among them â€“ to commoners including a wounded Syrian rebel war veteran, as well as rich and poor pilgrims alike.
The haj, which officially ends on Tuesday, is the worldâ€™s largest Muslim gathering.
It is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once, the high point of his or her spiritual life. â€” AFP