More than two million Muslim pilgrims began the symbolic stoning of the devil on December 30 putting to the test new safety measures at a stage of the Hajj that has seen tragedy in the past.
“This is a symbolic gesture that reminds you of the historic animosity between Satan and human beings, and this stoning is something that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) showed us to do,” Habib al-Wazzani, a Tunisian pilgrim, reportedly said.
Pilgrims hurl seven pebbles from behind a fence or from an overhead bridge every day for three days at each of the three 18-meter (58-foot) high concrete pillars symbolising the devil.
Satan appeared on the same site to Prophet Abraham, son Isma‘il and wife Hagar, who each threw seven stones at the devil. Saudi authorities have announced the completion of the first phase of the Jamrat Bridge to help avoid bloody accidents during the ritual.
The phase included the setting up of two entry points to the area on the upper level of the bridge where pilgrims throw pebbles during the symbolic stoning of the Devil.
Pilgrims will be allowed to move only in one direction toward the Jamrat Bridge to ensure their safety.
In the worst hajj tragedy in 16 years, 362 pilgrims were crushed to death last year as crowds surged across the bridge to throw stones at the three large walls.
Overnight, an elated mass of pilgrims, clad in white robes symbolizing equality and selflessness, streamed down to Muzdalifah near the holy city of Makkah after a day of prayer. They chanted prayers in Arabic as they slowly moved along a vast floodlit avenue towards Muzdalifah.
Many carried their belongings on their backs, and some pushed along relatives in wheelchairs. Others climbed onto motorbikes, buses and any other means of transport at hand.
Earlier, pilgrims spent the day at Mount ‘Arafat, a sacred zone outside Makkah where Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon 1,400 years ago.
A record 1.65 million pilgrims have come from abroad, a 6 percent rise on the last Hajj. Several hundred thousand people inside Saudi Arabia usually receive permits too. But anecdotal evidence suggests total pilgrim numbers this season have swelled to more than the record of 2.6 million, as local residents sneak into the holy city of Makkah without official permits.