Hajj pilgrims stone the devil as Gulf countries mark Eidul Azha

Mina (Saudi Arabia)   -   Pilgrims performed Sunday the last major ritual of the Hajj, the stoning of the devil, in western Saudi Arabia, as Muslims the world over celebrated the Eidul Azha. Beginning at dawn, the 1.8 million Muslims undertaking the pilgrimage this year threw seven stones at each of three concrete walls symbolising the devil in the Mina valley, located outside Makkah.

The ritual commemorates Abraham’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where it is said Satan tried to dissuade him from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son.

The stoning ritual has been witness to multiple stampedes over the years, most recently in 2015 when up to 2,300 Muslims were killed in the worst Hajj disaster.

The site has been revamped since then to streamline the movement of the large crowds.

Roads leading to the concrete walls were nevertheless packed early Sunday, with some pilgrims visibly struggling under the morning sun.

Some sat on the side of the road to rest and drink water, while others stretched out on the ground, apparently exhausted.

On Saturday, temperatures reached 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in Arafat, where pilgrims performed hours of outdoor prayers.

One treatment centre in the area recorded 225 cases of heat stress and fatigue, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

That figure was not comprehensive. Last year more than 10,000 cases of heat-related illnesses were documented during the Hajj, 10 percent of which were heat stroke, a health ministry spokesman told media.

“It was very, very hot,” Rohy Daiseca, a 60-year-old Gambian living in the United States, told AFP on Saturday night as pilgrims collected stones to throw.

“Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), I put a lot of water on my head and it was OK.”

Pilgrims have tried to take the gruelling conditions in stride, seizing what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pray at Islam’s holiest shrines.

“I am so happy that I can’t describe my feelings,” said Amal Mahrouss, a 55-year-old woman from Egypt.

“This place shows us that we are all equal, that there are no differences between Muslims around the world.”

One of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj must be performed at least once by all Muslims with the means.

This year’s figure of 1.8 million pilgrims is similar to last year’s, and Saudi authorities said on Saturday that 1.6 million of them came from abroad.

The stoning ritual coincides with Eidul Azha, or the feast of the sacrifice, which honours Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son before God offered a sheep instead.

This year’s Hajj and Eidul Azha have been clouded by the war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“We don’t feel the Eid holiday because our brothers in Gaza are oppressed under the (Israeli) occupation,” said Najem Nawwar, a 43-year-old Egyptian pilgrim.

King Salman invited 2,000 Palestinians to the Hajj at his own expense including relatives of Gazans who have sought refuge elsewhere.

But Saudi authorities have warned no political slogans would be tolerated during the pilgrimage.

That has not stopped many worshippers from voicing solidarity with Palestinians.

In a message to Hajj pilgrims on Saturday, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “the ironclad resistance of Palestine and the patient, oppressed people of Gaza... must be fully supported in every way”.

Meanwhile, Muslims across Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Turkiye, Indonesia and Australia marked first day of Eidul Azha on Sunday.

Muslims in parts of the world sacrificed animals on Sunday to celebrate the religious festival of Eidul Azha, also known as the festival of sacrifice.

On Sunday, Muslims across the Middle East, the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia marked the first day of the three-day celebration of Eidul Azha.

The Middle Eastern countries include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, and Iraq.

According to the Saudi Gazette, Muslims in Saudi Arabia attended the Eid prayer on Sunday in over 12,000 mosques, including the Grand Mosque of Makkah and Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

Muslims across the UAE kicked off Eidul Azha celebrations with prayers and greetings on Sunday morning.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed on Saturday sent cables of congratulations to the kings, emirs, and presidents of Arab and Islamic nations on the occasion.

Sheikh Mohamed wished them and their people continued progress, prosperity and stability.

Residents in the UAE are marking the celebration with a four-day weekend that began on Saturday and will last until Tuesday.

Additionally, residents of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are set to enjoy stunning fireworks displays at different locations at 9pm on Sunday.

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