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Pilgrims commence final rites of Hajj as Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha

Muslim pilgrims cast stones at pillars in the symbolic stoning of the devil, the last rite of the annual hajj, in Mina, near city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 16th 2024
Muslim pilgrims cast stones at pillars in the symbolic stoning of the devil, the last rite of the annual hajj, in Mina, near city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 16th 2024 Copyright Rafiq Maqbool/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Rafiq Maqbool/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Daniel Bellamy with AP
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Masses of pilgrims on Sunday embarked on a symbolic stoning of the devil in Saudi Arabia under the 47 degree celsius heat.

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Masses of pilgrims on Sunday embarked on a symbolic stoning of the devil in Saudi Arabia under the soaring summer heat. The ritual marks the final days of the Hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world.

The stoning is among the final rites of the Hajj, which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It came a day after more than 1.8 million pilgrims congregated at a sacred hill, known as Mount Ararat, outside the holy city of Mecca, which Muslim pilgrims visit to perform the annual five-day rituals of Hajj.

The pilgrims left Mount Arafat on Saturday evening to spend their night in a nearby site known as Muzdalifa, where they collected pebbles to use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil.

Muslim pilgrims cast stones at pillars in the symbolic stoning of the devil, the last rite of the annual hajj, in Mina,  Saudi Arabia, June 16, 2024.
Muslim pilgrims cast stones at pillars in the symbolic stoning of the devil, the last rite of the annual hajj, in Mina, Saudi Arabia, June 16, 2024.AP

The pillars are in another sacred place in Mecca, called Mina, where Muslims believe Ibrahim’s faith was tested when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son Ismail. Ibrahim was prepared to submit to the command, but then God stayed his hand, sparing his son. In the Christian and Jewish versions of the story, Abraham is ordered to kill his other son, Isaac.

On Sunday morning, crowds headed on foot to the stoning areas. Some were seen pushing disabled pilgrims on wheelchairs on a multi-lane road leading to the complex housing the large pillars. Most pilgrims were seen sweltering and carrying umbrellas to protect them against the burning summer sun.

Muslim pilgrims arrive to cast stones at pillars in the symbolic stoning of the devil, the last rite of the annual hajj, in Mina, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024.
Muslim pilgrims arrive to cast stones at pillars in the symbolic stoning of the devil, the last rite of the annual hajj, in Mina, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024.AP

An Associated Press reporter saw many pilgrims, especially among the elderly, collapsing on the road to the pillars because of the burning heat. Security forces and medics were deployed to help, carrying those who fainted on gurneys out of the heat to ambulances or field hospitals. As the temperature spiked by midday, more people required medical help. The heat had reached to 47 C in Mecca, and 46 C in Mina, according to Saudi meteorological authorities.

Despite the suffocating heat, many pilgrims expressed joy at being able to complete their pilgrimage.

“Thank God, (the process) was joyful and good,” said Abdel-Moaty Abu Ghoneima, an Egyptian pilgrim. “No one wants more than this.”

Many pilgrims will spend up to three days in Mina, each casting seven pebbles at three pillars in a ritual to symbolise the casting away of evil and sin.

While in Mina, they will visit Mecca to perform their “tawaf,” or circumambulation, which is circling the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque counter-clockwise seven times. Then another circumambulation, the Farewell Tawaf, will mark the end of Hajj as pilgrims prepare to leave the holy city.

The rites coincide with the four-day Eid al-Adha, which means “Feast of Sacrifice,” when Muslims with financial means commentate Ibrahim’s test of faith through slaughtering livestock and animals and distributing the meat to the poor.

Most countries marked Eid al-Adha on Sunday. Others, like Indonesia, will celebrate it Monday.

Once the Hajj is over, men are expected to shave their heads and remove the shroud-like white garments worn during the pilgrimage, and women to snip a lock of hair in a sign of renewal and rebirth.

Most of the pilgrims then leave Mecca for the city of Medina, about 340 kilometres away, to pray in Prophet Muhammad’s tomb, the Sacred Chamber. The tomb is part of the prophet’s mosque, one of the three holiest sites in Islam, along with the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024
Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024AP

All Muslims are required to make the Hajj once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so. Many wealthy Muslims make the pilgrimage more than once. The rituals largely commemorate the accounts of Prophet Ibrahim and his son Prophet Ismail, Ismail’s mother Hajar and Prophet Muhammad, according to the Quran, Islam’s holy book.

More than 1.83 million Muslims performed Hajj in 2024, Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq bin Fawzan al-Rabiah said in a briefing, slightly less than last year’s figures when 1.84 million made the rituals.

Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. It is set for the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar, so its time of the year varies. And this year the pilgrimage fell in the burning summer of Saudi Arabia.

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