Mina (Saudi Arabia): Pilgrims pelted pillars symbolising the devil with pebbles to show their defiance on the third day of the hajj on Friday as Muslims worldwide marked the Eid al-Adha holy day with mass animal sacrifices.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims filed by the three jamarat pillars in Mina tossing stones to mark Abraham`s three rejections of the devil`s attempts to persuade him to ignore God`s instructions to sacrifice his son Ishmael as related in the Koran.
The stoning was orderly during the night and early morning on Friday, fulfilling Saudi hopes that enlarged pillars and a newly-built five storey pilgrim walkway would end the crowding that led to deadly stampedes in previous years as the faithful jammed into the area for the required ritual.
"I was a afraid of problems at the jamarat bridge, but it was very easy," said Faeq Jarada, 60, a pilgrim from Gaza.
After the stoning, said Jarada, "the pilgrims feel pure like a child, like they are reborn."
Assistant chief of hajj security Khader al Zaharani told Saudi television on Friday that there had been no major problems.
"The whole world wants to know how we protect the safety of several million pilgrims at the same time," he said.
Stampedes of panicked pilgrims at the jamarat area were frequent in past pilgrimages. In 2006, 346 were crushed to death at the site.
The design of the new bridge, forcing all pilgrims to move in one direction and offering numerous exits, aim to prevent a recurrence.
After throwing the pebbles, many pilgrims were also taking advantage of dozens of barbers around Mina to shave their heads as part of their purification, at 10 riyals (2.67 dollars) apiece.
The stoning ritual in Mina is followed by the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of head of livestock, also rooted in the Koranic account.
As Abraham fended off the devil and moved toward fulfilling the command to kill Ishmael, an angel intervened and revoked the command, supplying Abraham instead with a ram to sacrifice.
Muslims around the world ritually kill goats, sheep and cattle on this day to commemorate Abraham`s obedience to God and Ishmael`s reprieve.
In Mecca authorities have moved the sacrifices to massive abattoirs and most pilgrims buy certificates guaranteeing them a sheep or goat will be killed in their name.
The abattoirs mostly butcher the animals and freeze a part for donation to the poor in other countries.
Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, people could be seen on Friday morning readying animals for the sacrifice in their homes.
An estimated 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world were in the holy city of Mecca this week for the hajj, braving the threat of swine flu which has killed four of their number and shrugging off a heavy downpour on Tuesday that caused mass flooding in nearby Jeddah.
At least 83 people died from the floods, according to reports.
Weather was clear in Mecca early on Friday as pilgrims filed around the jamarat and smiled and waved at television cameras broadcasting the ritual.