MINA, SAUDI ARABIA // Some 1.4 million Muslim pilgrims who came from 188 countries started leaving Saudi Arabia today at the end of this year’s largely incident-free Haj.
Although the Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam, comes to a close officially on Friday, pilgrims are allowed to leave a day early after taking part in the stoning of the devil ritual.
Pilgrims woke up early and began stoning three huge concrete structures in Mina representing the devil straight after sunrise, in accordance with the teachings of Islam.
The ritual is an emulation of the Prophet Ibrahim’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where it is said Satan tried to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ismail.
Thousands of pilgrims were later seen loading vans and lorries with luggage and departing their hotels in Mecca.
A majority of them travel the 100 kilometre journey to Jeddah international airport to take flights back home.
Saudi Arabia has deployed more than 100,000 security personnel to maintain order during Haj.
The authorities have declared this year’s Haj a grand success after it finished free of accidents and diseases, especially amid fears of the deadly Mers coronavirus which has so far killed 60 people worldwide, 51 of them in the kingdom itself.
The overall number of pilgrims at this year’s Haj was just under two million, sharply down on last year’s 3.2 million.
Foreign pilgrims accounted for 1.38 million of them, compared with 1.75 million in 2012.
Officials said the smaller number contributed to the success.
The pilgrimage was monitored by more than 5,000 cameras installed at all holy sites, including 1,200 at the Grand Mosque, managed by the Command and Control Centre for Haj Security.
Saudi Minister of Haj Affairs Bandar Hajjar said yesterday that his ministry has been instructed by the king to work out a 25-year plan to ensure the smooth running of the pilgrimage.
* Agence France-Presse