Haj culminates with stoning the devil ritual

MINA, Oct 4:
Over two million believers, including about 1.5 lakh Indians, today ritually stoned the devil in Mina Valley marking the end of the Haj pilgrimage, as Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Adha.
The pilgrims converged at Mina Valley, about five kilometres east of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, to hurl stones at three concrete pillars representing the devil.
The ritual began early this morning and sizeable number of pilgrims, wearing the ihram or two-piece seamless white garment, participated throughout the day.
After the stoning, the pilgrims performed the ritual of animal sacrifice to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Ismail, to God.
The stoning ritual is meant to mirror Ibrahim’s stoning of the devil when he appeared to try to dissuade the Prophet from obeying God’s order to sacrifice Ismail.
Eid-ul-Azha is being celebrated with great fervour and excitement across the Arab world today. The festival is celebrated to commemorate Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice.
After offering prayers at Mount Arafat yesterday, pilgrims travelled to nearby Muzdalifa to collect stones for the ritual in Mina Valley, an event which has been marred in the past by stampedes.
The annual Haj pilgrimage has so far been incident-free.
A Saudi Riyal 4.2 billion multilevel hi-tech Jamrat bridge project has made the stoning ritual in Mina safe as the newly expanded bridge can now accommodate 300,000 per hour.
After the stoning and the sacrifice of animals, pilgrims got their heads shaved and came out of the ihram to wear their daily clothes.
Some pilgrims chose to circumambulate the Kaaba, the black cubical structure inside the Grand Mecca mosque, today while others, including the elderly people, may do it tomorrow when the crowd would be significantly less.
In his annual Haj sermon, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh yesterday voiced Islam’s unequivocal position against extremism and terrorism.
The journey of the pilgrims began on Wednesday, when they streamed towards Mina for the first leg of Haj.
With the end of the over a month-long journey for the Indian pilgrims nearing, emotional scenes were witnessed in the camp as tears and prayers were seen everywhere.
India gets a quota of about 1.7 lakh pilgrims annually from Saudi Arabia. Indian pilgrims go to Mecca through the Haj Committee and private tour operators.
The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam that should be performed at least once in lifetime by every Muslim who is financially and physically capable.
Meanwhile, the Saudi government today came out with the official statistics of participation in Haj this year, saying a total of 20,85,238 people participated in Haj this year, including 13,89,053 foreigners.
Many pilgrims also narrated their stories about undertaking this fulfilling journey defying all odds.
Mohammed Saeed from India, who in his 70s, sold his farm to undertake the journey. Saeed said he and his wife, about the same age, had to make sacrifices to be able to come to Saudi Arabia to fulfill the fifth pillar of Islam.
“Our sacrifice was purely for God. We are happy to have made it to the Kingdom to perform the Haj,” he said.
Many elderly people are part of the Indian group, including a 109-year-old man from Murshidabad, West Bengal, and another centenarian from Bagpath, Uttar Pradesh.
This year’s Haj took place against the backdrop of fear of two deadly viruses – Ebola and the MERS coronavirus – and rise of Islamic State group jihadists in Middle East.
The Saudi government agencies have made elaborate arrangements to protect pilgrims from these virus. It has also put in place elaborate security measures to ensure a peaceful and hassle-free Haj for pilgrims from over 160 nations.
It has deployed over 70,000 officers and Black Hawk helicopters to ensure the safety and security of pilgrims.
About 1.4 million foreign pilgrims, about one-fourth of whom are from the sub-continent, are performing Haj.
A number of foreign heads of state, including Bangladesh President Mohammed Abdul Hamid, Sudanese President Omar Bashir, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen are performing Haj this year. (PTI)

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