‘Devil’ stoned as Muslims celebrate Eid

An estimated 2.8mn people from around the world are performing the Hajj this year.

Updated: Nov 17, 2010, 09:54 AM IST

Mina, Saudi Arabia: A human tide of
pilgrims, put at nearly 2.8 million, descended on the Mina valley carrying bags of pebbles to symbolically stone
Satan on the third day of the Hajj, as Muslims worldwide marked the Eid al-Adha festival.

Massive crowds of Muslims, including Indians, filed along a giant ramp that houses the walls in the Mina valley,
pelting them.

Some 2.8 million people from around the world,
including 175,000 Indians, were attending the Hajj pilgrimage
this year, and the stoning ceremony in the past has seen deadly crushes and pile-ups, though the building of the
four-storey-tall ramp in recent years has eased access and
prevented stampedes.

Small pebbles whizzed above heads as hundreds of
thousands of pilgrims rushed to stone Jamarat al-Aqaba, at 30
metres the longest of three walls said to symbolise the devil,
also referred to as Ibleess by Muslims.

Pilgrims who are taking part in this year`s Hajj,
the world`s largest annual pilgrimage, had arrived overnight
at Mina, a tent town in western Saudi Arabia that comes to
life five days a year, after returning from rituals marking
the high point of the hajj at nearby Mount Arafat.

A total of 1,799,601 pilgrims from outside Saudi
Arabia and 989,798 from inside made the Hajj this year, for a
total of 2,789,399, said a statement from the department of
statistics carried by the official SPA news agency.

The figure is far higher than official estimates
given at the beginning of the Hajj, probably due to a flood of
pilgrims without permits. Authorities on Sunday put the number
of permits issued to Saudis and citizens of other Gulf states
at just 200,000.

"We are expelling the devil from our minds," said
Marwan Mashah of Jordan, after throwing seven pebbles at the
stone structure representing Satan.

Elderly Mohammed Othman, from Egypt,
enthusiastically hurled the seven pebbles he had in his pouch,
then picked stones up from around him and threw them too.

"I missed the wall with some pebbles," he
explained. "I felt I was in an attack on Ibleess."

The stoning has been marred by deadly stampedes in
previous years but the Saudi authorities have now revamped the
area, expanding the stoning path into a multi-storey bridge.

The structure, which resembles a car park, sits in
the middle of a barren valley surrounded by arid rocky hills,
is aimed at preventing the kind of crowd control problems that
saw 364 people trampled to death in 2006, 251 in 2004 and
1,426 in 1990.

The endless flood of white-robed pilgrims was
directed onto various levels by police, who made sure all
moved in one direction only and that no one stayed too long.
Those taking a seat were hastily moved on.

At the fifth level of the bridge -- the highest -- the
crowded entry point eases onto a wide bridge where pilgrims
can more easily carry out the stoning rituals.

At the exit of the bridge, men who had finished the
stoning sat on the pavement shaving each other`s heads, or
just having a trim. Women cut a finger-tip length of their
hair. After the stoning, pilgrims made the ritual sacrifice of
an animal, marking the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha.

The sacrifice is a prophetic tradition, but not a must
according to several schools of Islamic thought.

Most pilgrims perform the sacrifice now through
special bodies that take care of slaughtering the animals and
distribute the meat to needy Muslims around the world.

The sacrifice honours Ibrahim`s willingness to
sacrifice his son on God`s order before he was forestalled
with a lamb, according to Islamic tradition.

After the first stoning rituals, pilgrims traveled to
Mecca, some five kilometres (three miles) west of Mina, to
perform Tawaf, or circumambulation of the Kaaba seven times.

The cube-shaped Kaaba stone structure, towards which
Muslims worldwide face for prayer, is situated within the
sacred Grand Mosque compound.

Pilgrims also performed Sa`i, going back and forth
between the two stone spots of Safa and Marwah in seven

The ritual is meant to copy the desperate walks of
Hagar, wife of Ibrahim, who was seeking water for her infant
Ishmael after he left them in the barren spot.

After Tawaf and Sa`i, many pilgrims put their normal
clothes back on. They return to Mina to perform stoning at
three spots over two more days.

According to tradition, the devil appeared to Abraham
at those three sites trying to dissuade him from obeying God`s

No major incidents have been reported so far at this
year`s pilgrimage, which ends on Friday.

The biggest problem this year appeared to be
traffic on roads, as the throngs of pilgrims moved between
Mina, the nearby holy city of Mecca and other ritual sites. It
appeared that a greater number than usual of "unofficial"
pilgrims were performing the hajj this year - pilgrims who
sneak in without going through tour groups as required by
Saudi authorities and sleep along roadsides in tents during
the four days of rituals.