x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Final Haj ritual for pilgrims

Muslim pilgrims symbolically stone the devil in the Mina valley as they begin one of the final rituals of the Haj.

Muslim pilgrims cast stones at a pillar, symbolising the stoning of Satan, in a ritual called
Muslim pilgrims cast stones at a pillar, symbolising the stoning of Satan, in a ritual called "Jamarat," the last rite of the annual hajj, in Mina near the Saudi holy city of Mecca.

MINA, SAUDI ARABIA // Muslim pilgrims symbolically stoned the devil in the Mina valley yesterday, as they launched into the final rituals of the Haj, which this year has drawn 2.8 million devotees.

On Tuesday, pilgrims focused on throwing pebbles at the Jamarat al-Aqaba, the largest of three walls representing Satan. Yesterday, they cast their stones at all three sites.

The stoning rituals continue today before the Haj winds up tomorrow.

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

"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 [it]," said Arif al Shuaibi, 21, from Yemen.

Officials sprayed mist over the faithful as they arrived.

Pilgrims had returned overnight to Mina, a tent town that comes to life only during Haj. They came 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 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 son Ismael after he left them in the barren spot.

The Saudi government said that 1,799,601 pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia and 989,798 from inside made the Haj this year, for 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.

No major incidents have so far been registered, a pay-off for the expansion of infrastructure at the sacred sites. The stoning ritual at the Jamarat was marked in the past by 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.