The Hajj makes up one of the five pillars of Islam and it is a duty every able-bodied Muslim should embark on provided they have the money to fund the journey. Every year, Muslims from around the world leave on a pilgrimage to Mecca and the gathering on Arafat symbolises the peak of the pilgrimage which will come to an end with Eid al-Azha.
The pilgrims all dress in simple white clothes to represent human equality as they come together to perform rites dating back in history to the time of Abraham. The rituals include the ‘tawaf’, which means moving seven times around the Kaba in Mecca, treading back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, and the stoning of the symbolic ‘Satan’.
Yesterday millions of Muslims chanting ‘God is great’ stoned pillars which represented the devil. This was done as a symbolic rejection of temptation on the second day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which was also the day that marked the beginning of the Islamic holiday. Authorities in Saudi Arabia are saying that more than 2.9 million Muslims will be performing the Hajj this year.
Crowds of pilgrims threw pebbles as they moved past the three pillars, which resemble curved walls, in a four-level sprawling concrete structure built to speed up the flow of pilgrims. The ritual will take place for two more days with stones being thrown at all three pillars.
The ritual in Mina, a desert valley, commemorates the stoning of the devil by Abraham. It is said that the devil appeared three times to tempt the prophet.
It is one of the most dangerous stages of the Hajj, and you only need to go back to January in 2006 when 364 pilgrims were killed during a stampede near the entrance to the bridge which led to the stoning site. While back in 2004, in a similar situation 251 people were trampled to death.
Three-day global festival
Pilgrims collected pebbles from an open plain called Muzdalifa, between Arafat and Mina. Once the stoning was over, pilgrims performed an animal sacrifice and celebrated the three-day global festival.
There are many Indians among the three million Muslims who have come from 183 countries. To cope with the huge numbers the Hajj metro is in operation for the first time, and it is capable of moving 72,000 people every hour to lessen the congestion and risks of a stampede.
In an attempt to make the pilgrimage accident free, there are 63,000 security forces as well as 17,000 traffic policemen with tens of thousands of officials all at hand to help.