BFF-21, 22 Pilgrims stone Satan in last major rite of scaled-back hajj

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Pilgrims stone Satan in last major rite of scaled-back hajj

MINA, Saudi Arabia, July 31, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Muslim pilgrims cast
sanitised pebbles Friday as they “stoned the devil” in the last major
ritual of the hajj, which the Saudi king acknowledged had been tough
to organise amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Massive crowds in previous years triggered deadly stampedes during
the ritual, but this year only up to 10,000 Muslims are taking part
after millions of international pilgrims were barred.

In the scorching heat, worshippers made their way across Mina Valley
near Mecca under the watchful eyes of security forces, to symbolically
“humiliate” the devil.

Masked pilgrims, clad in white and spaced apart on marked spots to
observe social distancing, threw seven stones each at a wall
symbolising Satan.

Instead of gathering the pebbles themselves as in past years, they
were handed them bagged and sterilised by hajj authorities, to protect
against the novel coronavirus.

Holding the ritual in the shadow of the pandemic required “double
efforts” by Saudi authorities, King Salman said, a day after being
discharged from hospital following surgery to remove his gall bladder.

“The hajj this year was restricted to a very limited number of
people from multiple nationalities, ensuring the ritual was completed
despite the difficult circumstances,” said the kingdom’s 84-year-old
ruler.

His speech, read out on state television by the acting media
minister, came on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival of
sacrifice which began on Friday.

Muslims traditionally slaughter sheep for the three-day holiday in
tribute to the Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice of a lamb after God at the
last moment spared Ishmael, his son.

Last year, King Salman made the trip to Mina and was seen on
state-run television observing worshippers from the window of a
high-rise.

But it was unclear whether he would visit this year after his 10-day
stay in hospital.

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– ‘Dream comes true’ –

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for
able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of
the world’s largest religious gatherings.

But local media said up to 10,000 people already residing in the
kingdom are participating this year, compared with 2019’s gathering of
some 2.5 million from around the world.

The hajj ministry had initially said around 1,000 pilgrims would be allowed.

On Thursday, pilgrims scaled Mount Arafat for Koran recitals and
prayers to atone for their sins in what is seen as the high point of
the event.

“I am so happy to be chosen among millions for the hajj this year,”
Saudi pilgrim Wedyan Alwah said before setting off on the climb.

“My lifetime dream has come true.”

They made their way down Mount Arafat to Muzdalifah, another holy
site, where they spent the night before the stoning ritual.

In previous years, the ritual was not without risk as millions of
pilgrims converge on a tight space and the pebbles often miss their
mark.

Riyadh faced strong criticism in 2015 when some 2,300 worshippers
were crushed, trampled or suffocated in Mina in the deadliest stampede
in the gathering’s history.

Authorities have since reinforced safety and security measures.

– Health precautions –

After the stoning ritual, pilgrims returned to the Grand Mosque in
Mecca to perform a final “tawaf” or circling of the Kaaba.

The Kaaba, the focal point of Islam, is a cube structure towards
which Muslims around the world pray.

The pilgrims, who have all been tested for the virus and are subject
to regular temperature checks, are also required to be quarantined
after the hajj, authorities said.

Six hospitals, 51 field clinics and 200 ambulances catered to the
faithful, health ministry spokesman Mohammad al Abd Al Aly said.

Some 8,000 health care professionals were also deployed, he added.

The hajj began on Wednesday when pilgrims were brought inside the
mosque in small batches.

They walked along socially distanced paths marked on the floor, in
sharp contrast to the normal sea of humanity that swirls around the
Kaaba during hajj.

The hajj typically costs thousands of dollars for pilgrims, who
often save for years as well as endure long waiting lists for a chance
to attend.

But this year, the Saudi government is covering the expenses of all
pilgrims, providing them with meals, hotel accommodation and health
care, worshippers said.

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