| 21 April 2024, Sunday |

Pilgrims ‘stone the devil’ in final hajj ritual

Massive crowds of robed Muslims gathered for the “stoning of the devil” ritual in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday as the biggest Hajj pilgrimage since the pandemic draws to a close.

From dawn, hundreds of thousands of worshippers began pelting pebbles at three concrete monoliths representing Satan, the last major ritual of an event held in severe summer heat.

The pilgrims flocked to Mina, near the holy city of Makkah, a day after enduring temperatures of 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit) as they prayed for hours on Mount Arafat.

More than 1.8 million pilgrims, most of them from abroad, joined the first Hajj with unrestricted numbers since pre-Covid in 2019, when 2.5 million took part.

The attendance figure was announced by Saudi officials on Tuesday.

The devil-stoning marks the start of the three-day Eid al-Adha holiday, celebrated by Muslims by buying and slaughtering livestock to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

Afterwards, the pilgrims return to Makkah to perform a farewell “tawaf” — walking seven times around the Kaaba, the giant black cube at the Grand Mosque that is the focal point of Islam.

On Wednesday, helicopters buzzed overhead and hundreds of police officers fanned out across Mina’s roads to organize the flow of worshippers.

As well as the crowds, scorching conditions have been a major challenge for the worshippers from 160 countries, including many elderly after a maximum age limit was scrapped.

In recent years the Hajj has coincided with the Saudi summer, compounded by global warming that has made the desert climate even hotter.

Tuesday’s peak of 48 degrees Celsius made it the hottest day at this year’s Hajj.

To protect themselves from the heat, many pilgrims walk with umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, while others carry their folded prayer blankets above their heads.

More than 32,000 health workers are on hand to treat anyone struck by heatstroke or other ailments, authorities say, while bottles of water are being distributed free of charge.

The hajj started on Sunday at Makkah’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, before an overnight stay in tents and then the prayers on Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat