MINA, SAUDI ARABIA (AFP) – Thousands of pilgrims cast pebbles in the “stoning of the devil” ritual marking the start of the Aidiladha holiday yesterday, as a haj pilgrimage that drew 900,000 visitors began winding down.
Enormous crowds of white-robed worshippers thronged Mina, near Makkah in western Saudi Arabia, for the stoning ritual where each threw seven pebbles at three large concrete walls representing Satan.
Deadly stampedes have previously overshadowed the ritual, the last major act of the haj, but high temperatures and the ongoing COVID pandemic appeared the biggest immediate risk.
“I feel I am about to faint, hurry up,” said one woman, asking her companion to splash her face with water. No health or safety incidents were reported.
The pilgrims threw stones that they had collected in nearby Muzdalifah. In 2020 and 2021, when COVID restrictions reduced numbers to tens of thousands, worshippers were handed sanitised pebbles in sealed bags.
The haj 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 Muhammad (pbuh) is believed to have delivered his final sermon.
After the stoning ritual, pilgrims return to Makkah to perform a farewell tawaf – circling seven times around the Kaabah, the large black cube at the Grand Mosque that is the focal point of Islam.
An hour after sunrise yesterday, the Kaabah 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 displayed the message ‘Eid Mubarak’ (blessed Eid) in green.
Aidiladha, the feast of the sacrifice, marks the end of the haj.