Muslim pilgrims gathered on Tuesday for the festival of Eid al Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, and the symbolic "stoning of the devil" in Saudi Arabia's Mina valley for the third day of the annual hajj pilgrimage.
AFP - A human tide of pilgrims carrying bags of pebbles descended on the Mina valley Tuesday to symbolically stone Satan on the third day of the hajj, as Muslims worldwide marked the Eid al-Adha festival with animal sacrifices.
Small pebbles whizzed above heads as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims rushed to stone a 30-metre (100 feet) long structure, the longest of three walls said to symbolise the devil, also referred to as Ibleess by Muslims.
The hajj pilgrimage
© Photo: Adel Gastel - France 24 | Pilgrims arrive at Mecca airport
The hajj, the big annual pilgrimage of Mecca, started on Sunday in Saudi Arabia. According to the Saudi Foreign Ministry, 1.8 million foreigners are taking part in it this year.
© Photo: AFP | On Mecca time
A giant clock, six times the size of London's Big Ben, displays 'Mecca time' to pilgrims.
© Photo: Adel Gastel - France 24 | Pilgrimage under high security
At a military parade last week, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz said that the possibility of an al Qaeda attack on Saudi soil during the hajj was high.
© Photo: Adel Gastel - France 24 | A pillar of Islam
The hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. All Muslims who can afford it are expected to travel at least once in their lifetime to Mecca.
© Photo: Adel Gastel - France 24 | Mount Arafat
On Monday, pilgrims clad in white made their way to Mount Arafat, the hill on the top of which the Prophet Mohammad delivered the Farewell Sermon. This is the most spiritual of all the hajj rites.
© Photo: AFP | Kaaba
On the last day of the hajj, pilgrims take a last trip to Mecca to walk seven times around the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building located at the heart of the Great Mosque and toward which Muslims turn while praying.
© Photo: AFP | The world's biggest human gathering
In total, some 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to take part in the world's biggest annual human gathering.
Some two million pilgrims taking part in this year's hajj, the world's largest annual pilgrimage, had overnight arrived at Mina, a tent town in western Saudi Arabia that comes to life five days a year, after returning from rituals marking the peak of the hajj at nearby Mount Arafat on Monday.
Stoning has in the past been marked by deadly stampedes but the Saudi authorities have now revamped the area, expanding the stoning path into a multi-storey bridge.
The structure, which resembles a parking lot sits in the middle of a barren valley surrounded by arid rocky hills, aims to prevent the type of trampling that caused the deaths of 364 people in 2006, 251 in 2004 and 1,426 in 1990.
The endless flood of white-robed pilgrims were directed Tuesday onto various levels by police, who made sure all moved in one direction only and that no one stayed too long at the site. 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, which mark defiance of the devil.
After the stoning, pilgrims perform the ritual of sacrificing an animal, usually a lamb, as the third day of hajj also marks the Muslim major feast, Eid al-Adha.
The ritual is carried out across the Muslim world with devotees in Bangladesh expected to slaughter a record 15 million animals this Eid.
Those in Pakistan, however, will slaughter far fewer animals this year as cattle and sheep prices have soared in the wake of the country's fatal floods.
In the impoverished Gaza Strip, Palestinians have been hard hit by an Israeli blockade which has affected employment and plunged many families into dire economic straits, leaving little spare cash for the four-day holiday.
The sacrificial rite honours Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son on God's order before he was forestalled with a lamb, according to Islamic tradition.
Pilgrims after the stoning rituals, which can last two days, head to Mecca, some five kilometres (three miles) west of Mina, to perform Tawaf, or circumambulation of the Kaaba seven times.
The cubic-shaped Kaaba stone, in whose direction all Muslims worlwide face when they pray, is situated within the site of the sacred Grand Mosque.
In recognition of the importance of the event, US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle on Monday extended good wishes to the world's 1.57 billion Muslims.
"On behalf of the American people, we extend our best wishes during this Hajj season -- Eid Mubarak and Hajj Mabrour," he added, using the traditional holiday greetings in Arabic.
No major incidents have been registered so far. The hajj ends on Friday.
Date created : 2010-11-16