MINA, Saudi Arabia // Chanting "God is great", millions of Muslims yesterday stoned pillars representing the devil in a symbolic rejection of temptation during the second day of the annual Haj pilgrimage.
The day also marked the start of the Islamic holiday of Eid Al Adha.
Vast crowds flowed past the three pillars, which resemble curved walls, in a four-level sprawling concrete structure built to expedite the flow of pilgrims, casting pebbles at the largest one.
The ritual would be repeated for two more days, with participants eventually casting stones at all three pillars.
The event in the desert valley of Mina commemorates Ibrahim's stoning of the devil. It is said the devil appeared to the prophet three times to try to tempt him.
The stoning is one of the most dangerous stages of the Haj, with the press of people around the pillars creating the risk of a stampede.
In 2004, 244 people were killed and a year later at least 360 others died when several pilgrims tripped over baggage while others behind them kept pushing ahead.
Saudi authorities subsequently built the current complex to reduce the stampede danger.
Officials estimate 2.5 million pilgrims have joined the Haj this year.
Among them were Libyans long denied the opportunity to make the Haj as the country's allotments were usually reserved for Muammar Qaddafi's cronies.
A celebratory mood dominated the Libyan tent camp more than two weeks after the October 20 capture and killing of Qaddafi, which ended an eight-month civil war.
A red carpet had replaced the Qaddafi green at the camp, while those given preference this year to fill the North African nation's quota were relatives of fighters killed trying to oust the longtime dictator.
Abdul-Hamid Kashlaf, 45, a building inspector from Tripoli, and his wife were among about 7,000 Libyans who received a free Haj trip from the governing National Transitional Council.
Mr Kashlaf's son, Abdul-Bari, 17, was part of a secret cell in Tripoli that helped revolutionary forces overrun the capital in late August .
He was killed when pro-Qaddafi forces opened fire on him and fellow fighters in a mosque.
"I pray to God to grant us security and to put our country in the hands of good people," Mr Kashlaf said.
In the past, Qaddafi's regime strictly controlled the list of Libyans selected to perform the Haj, as each country is given a limit by the Saudis.
"It was very hard for normal people to have a share in Libya's nearly 7,000 seats because the beneficiaries were Qaddafi's henchmen, relatives and government officials," Mr Kashlaf said.
Prayers were also offered for anti-government protesters still facing bloody crackdowns in other Arab countries.
"I pray to God for an end to the bloodshed in Syria and Yemen and for our Syrian and Yemeni brothers to achieve victory," said Mohammed Abdul-Salam Al Misrati, 27, who lost his father in the fighting in Libya.
Like all Libyan pilgrims, Mr Al Misrati's identification card bore the country's new tricolour flag.
Hundreds of Yemenis have been killed since protests demanding the resignation of the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, began in February.
Syria has suffered a bloody uprising in which more than 3,000 people have been killed since mid-March, according to the UN.
"I wish for security to be maintained in my country. I pray to God that we in Syria be unified and stand shoulder to shoulder," said Sheikh Ahmed Garman, 37, who led a group of Syrian pilgrims from Aleppo.
This year, Saudi authorities have used the latest technology to help control the vast crowds.
The ministry of religious affairs sent 3.25 million text messages each day to the mobile phones of pilgrims to inform them of correct procedures for the Haj rites to "prevent that which is harmful", according to a ministry official, Sheikh Talal Ul Uqail, cited by the official SPA news agency.
The messages, managed by more than 3,000 clerics, translators and administrators, aimed to correct "errors" made by some pilgrims.
Saudi authorities followed and managed the movement of the crowds by means of electronic monitors that tracked every pilgrim during the five-day Haj, according to the Saudi minister of Haj, Fuad Al Farsi.
The religious police posted videos and documents offering pilgrims guidance on the video-sharing website YouTube, accessible at www.youtube.com/user/movieshajj
In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, Eid Al Adha was marked by all-night prayer, the sacrifice of goats and cows and family meals of rice cakes and meat dishes. In keeping with tradition, the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, offered a cow weighing 1.2-tonnes for sacrifice after prayers at Jakarta's Istiqlal mosque, which was to slaughter 60 cows and 27 goats for meat to be distributed to 10,000 people.
* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
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