Saudi King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz yesterday marked the start of Eid al-Adha with a call on Muslims to disavow terrorism, which they said was taboo in Islam.
"The meanings of the Eid in Islam are many. They include the Muslim's sympathizing with the needs of fellow Muslims ... and cooperating with them in what is good ... away from excess and extremism," they said in a joint message on the occasion of the Feast of the Sacrifice, Islam's most important holiday.
Muslims should embark united on "a course that disavows terrorism, which spreads mayhem and seeks destruction and was forbidden by Islam," said the message to Muslims reported by official media.
King Fahd and Abdullah, de facto ruler of the oil-rich kingdom, made similar remarks in their Eid al-Adha message last year.
Thousands of pilgrims began one of the final rituals of the hajj early yesterday, throwing seven pebbles at large stone pillars that symbolize the devil.
The majority of the 2 million pilgrims who have come here from around the world were to perform the rite around midday, but the ones who came out just after midnight were taking advantage of a fatwa, or religious edict, issued last year that allowed the stoning before the dawn prayers.
"We were worried about the crowds and we had heard some real horror stories so we feel much better that we made it here early," said Ahmed Sodikin, 56, from Bandung, Indonesia.
The fatwa is in line with extra precautions that Saudi officials have taken to prevent the deadly stampedes that have marred the ritual in the past. Last year, 244 pilgrims died in a stampede; 1,426 died in a similar fashion in 1990.
Most pilgrims were expected after noon. After pelting the pillars, they are expected to return to Mecca, about 1.5km away, to circle the holy Kaaba in the last ritual of the pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia's top cleric, speaking at a mosque near Mount Arafat, lamented the violence waged by Muslim militants against Saudi Arabia and complained that that a hostile world is conspiring against Islam.
"The greatest affliction to strike the nation of Islam came from some of its own sons, who were lured by the devil," Sheik Abdul-Aziz al-Sheik said.
"They have called the nation infidel, they have shed protected blood and they have spread vice on earth, with explosions and destruction and killing of innocents," he added.
He pointedly asked of Muslim youth: "How would you meet God? With innocent blood you shed or helped shed?"
He warned them not to be used by enemies of the nation to weaken it.
Since May 2003, Saudi Arabia has been battling a wave of terror by presumed Islamist extremists from al-Qaeda, who have killed more than 100 people and wounded hundreds more in a spate of bombings and shootings.