MINA: Around two million Muslims converged on Mina, Saudi Arabia yesterday to symbolically stone the devil, the final stage of the annual Haj pilgrimage that has so far gone off without incident.
The occasion coincides with the first day of Eid Al Adha, the feast of sacrifice, which is celebrated by Muslims around the world.
The numbers were sharply lower this year because quotas were reduced due to massive construction work to expand the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, and fears over the deadly MERS coronavirus.
Health ministry spokesman Khaled Al Merghalani said no cases of coronavirus or any other disease had been detected, making this year’s Haj so far free from diseases and incidents.
The Saudi public statistics department said there were a total of 1.98 million pilgrims. Of those, 1.38 million came from 188 countries, a 21-percent slide, while there were 600,700 domestic pilgrims, a massive drop of 57 percent.
Although the numbers were sharply reduced from 3.2 million last year, the crowds of faithful managed to transform the Mina Valley, just outside the holy city of Makkah, into a vast sea of white as they flocked from all directions towards the place of stoning.
An endless torrent of pilgrims, dressed in the ihram, a two-piece seamless white garment, cried “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) as they hurled pebbles they had collected overnight at nearby Muzdalifah at concrete pillars representing the devil.
Some pilgrims also took the opportunity to reflect on unrest in their home countries.
A small group of Syrians were seen carrying the rebels’ flag, while a number of Egyptians raised their four fingers, a sign of support for deposed Islamist president Mohammed Mursi.
However, no protests were staged. AFP