Tue, Sep 13, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Hajj pilgrims reach Mina for stoning ritual

AFP, MINA, Saudi Arabia

Muslim pilgrims yesterday walk to where they will cast stones at pillars symbolizing Satan during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mina, Saudi Arabia.

Photo: Reuters

Muslim pilgrims yesterday reached Mina for the ritual stoning of the devil, the last major rite of the annual hajj and the scene of a devastating stampede last year.

A number of safety measures have been introduced to prevent a repeat of last year’s tragedy, which killed about 2,300 people as they made their way to the Jamarat Bridge to perform the stoning.

The bridge is multi-story to accommodate the huge number of pilgrims — more than 1.8 million this year.

Saudi King Salman on Sunday arrived in Mina to ensure the pilgrims can “perform their rituals easily, conveniently and safely,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

He was also briefed on preparations for the safe movement of pilgrims between Muzdalifah and Mina.

The stoning ritual is performed three times over the coming days.

The first comes at the start of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, which is marked by more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.

After the stoning, sheep are slaughtered and the meat distributed to needy Muslims, symbolizing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael on the orders of God, who provided a lamb in the boy’s place at the last moment.

The stoning ritual emulates the actions of Abraham in resisting the temptation to disobey.

Among the new safety measures introduced this year is the distribution of bracelets that store pilgrims’ personal data. Roads have also been widened in the Jamarat area, newspapers reported.

Helicopters have been monitoring the flow of pilgrims, while police have been directing them on the ground to make sure there are no bottlenecks.

Authorities also deployed drones to watch over the pilgrims on Sunday as they descended Mount Arafat.

On foot or seated on the roofs of buses, the faithful climbed down the craggy hills outside Mecca at sunset on Sunday and set out en masse for the open plateau of Muzdalifah.

There they collected pebbles in the dark before retreating for the night into Mina, the narrow city of air-conditioned white tents.

The drones are being used to reinforce a network of electronic surveillance of the crowds that is designed to alert authorities to intervene quickly if necessary.

Pilgrims have told reporters that they feel safe and have noticed organizational improvements.

“The Saudis organize everything for us. We are truly at ease here,” Youssef al-Mehri, 24, from Oman said with a prayer rug slung over his shoulder.

However, the new safety measures adopted by Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia failed to satisfy Shiite Iran, which has angrily questioned the kingdom’s custodianship of Islam’s holiest places.

Iran lost the largest number of dead last year, at 464. Its 64,000 pilgrims were excluded from this year’s hajj for the first time in decades after the two nations failed to agree on security and logistics.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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