MINA // Rain soaked crowds of pilgrims and lightning flashed today as they performed some of the final rituals of the annual Haj, stoning symbols of the devil and circling the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site.
Some 2.8 million Muslims from all over the world were participating in the pilgrimage this year, and some were finishing the rites today, though many would continue for another day.
The pilgrims walked seven times around the Kaaba, in a "farewell" ritual before leaving. Others were in the desert valley of Mina, several miles away, throwing stones at three walls representing Satan in a symbolic rejection of temptation.
Pilgrims' struggles to navigate the holy sites through the massive crowds that jam roads and streets were made more difficult by rain late yesterday and today. In Mina, drenched pilgrims took shelter under whatever structures they could find.
However, for most the rain did not damped the powerful emotion of the religious experience.
"This makes me a strong Muslim, God is very big and I'm very small. I was like a child asking for help from his mother and father," Seifallah Khan, a 38-year-old from Karachi, Pakistan, said of his feelings as he performed the rites.
An Egyptian from the Nile Delta, Sayed Mutwalli,60, said that now that he was retired, he could finally fulfil his dream of performing Haj. But, he added, "age has its limits. There's a lot of difficulties but God gives you strength."
Farag Khalil, an Egyptian butcher in his 50s, said it was his third time performing the pilgrimage. "I hope from God that for as long as I live I manage to make it to Haj," he said. "Prayers in Mecca are like a 100,000 times (the value) of prayer from any other mosque."
He arrived in the country two weeks before Haj began and planned to stay an extra week to visit nearby sites, including the prophet's mosque in the holy city of Medina.
"Why should I be in a hurry to leave? I wish I could die here," he said. "Every time I come I regret the time of my life I spent outside of Mecca."