Muslim pilgrims launch into final hajj rituals

 Muslims symbolically stoned the devil in Mina valley, near Mecca, launching into the final rituals of the hajj, the world's largest annual pilgrimage which this year has drawn around 2.8 million devotees.

A day after having focused on throwing pebbles at the Jamarat al-Aqaba, the largest of three adjacent walls representing Satan, pilgrims cast their stones at all three sites.

A storm followed by light rain hit Mina and Mecca in the evening, causing havoc among pilgrims squatted on pavements and in public spaces as their adhoc covers were blown away. Weather forecasts said the rains could last until Friday.

The stoning rituals continue on Thursday before the hajj winds up the following day.

"Thank God. I have fulfilled one of the duties of hajj," said Ibrahim al-Asaad, 27, from Syria, as he emerged from the Jamarat complex.

Muslim pilgrims perform the final walk around the Kaaba (Tawaf al-Wadaa) at the Grand Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Mecca.

"I felt I was really stoning Iblees (an Arabic name for the devil). I felt I was insulting him and declaring that I shall not follow him," he said.

Iblees in Islamic tradition is a wicked angel who refused Allah's order to prostrate to his creature, Adam, claiming that being created from fire made him superior to Adam, who was made from the soil.

The angel who fell from grace told God he would work endlessly to divert Adam and his offspring from obeying God. He was kicked out of heaven, along with Adam and Eve, after he convinced them to eat the forbidden fruit, according to Islamic tradition.

"I am keeping him away from me," said Khalaf Bayoush, 30, from Syria, after he cast pebbles at the three walls representing Iblees.

"Thank God. I fulfilled my duty," said Yemeni Antar Ahmed, 21.

Crowds surged later in the day as many appeared to follow the prevailing tradition of doing the stoning in the afternoon.

"I cast my stones in the morning. But after I asked scholars they told me that I should repeat," said Arif al-Shuaibi, 21, from Yemen.

The ritual is an emulation of Ibrahim's stoning of the devil at the three spots where he is said to have appeared trying to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God's order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.

Pilgrims had returned overnight to Mina, a tent town that comes to life only during hajj, from Mecca where they had on Tuesday performed the Tawaf circumambulation around the Kaaba, a cube-shaped stone structure towards which Muslims worldwide face for prayer.

They had also on Tuesday performed Sa'i, going back and forth between the two stone spots of Safa and Marwah in seven lengths.

The ritual is meant to copy the desperate walks of Hagar, wife of Ibrahim, who was seeking water for her infant Ishmael after he left them in the barren spot.

Saudi statistics revealed on Tuesday that a total of 1,799,601 pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia and 989,798 from inside the country made the hajj this year, making a total of 2,789,399.

The increase was most likely due to a flood of pilgrims without permits. Authorities on Sunday put the number of permits issued to Saudis and citizens of other Gulf states at just 200,000.

On Monday, the hajj peaked with the assembly of all pilgrims in the plain of Arafat, where Prophet Mohammed is believed to have delivered his final sermon, on a hill in the plain known as Mount Arafat, or the Mount of Mercy.

No major incidents have so far been registered, a pay-off for Saudi investments in expanding infrastructure at the sacred sites.

The stoning ritual at the Jamarat was marked in the past by deadly stampedes, with hundreds trampled to death in several incidents.

To control the crowds, Saudi authorities built a five-level structure around the three sites, allowing a smooth flow of pilgrims.

The complex stands like a car park in the middle of the barren valley that is surrounded by rocky hills.

Pilgrims who are in a hurry will leave by on Thursday afternoon, after they finish their stoning rituals and a farewell circumambulation of the Kaaba. Others stay for a further day.

source AFP

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