Haj pilgrims ‘stone the devil’ as Eidul Azha celebrated

Monday, Jun 17, 2024

MINA, Saudi Arabia: Pilgrims on Sunday performed the last major ritual of the Haj, the "stoning of the devil", in western Saudi Arabia, as Muslims the world over celebrated the Eidul Azha holiday.

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 Islam's holiest city of Makkah.

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

Those who arrived on foot later in the day, among them a number of elderly pilgrims, were especially vulnerable to heat as temperatures again soared well past 40 degrees Celsius.

At least two pilgrims seen lying on the side of the road, sheltered by buildings and cars, a few hundred metres from the concrete walls. “It’s very difficult, we can’t find transport. I can’t get up anymore,” said Ahmed Alsayed Omran, a 70-year-old Egyptian retiree, as he sat on the sidewalk.

Amman announced on Sunday that 14 Jordanian pilgrims had died and 17 were missing, while Iran reported five deaths, though neither country specified the cause.

Saudi Arabia has not provided any information on fatalities. During last year’s Haj at least 240 people -- many from Indonesia -- died, according to figures announced by various countries which also did not specify causes of death.

On Saturday, temperatures reached 46 degrees Celsius 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.

“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.”

Worshippers 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.”

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.

This year’s Haj and Eidul Azha holiday have been clouded by the war between Israel and Palestinian 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 Haj 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. “We pray for them and for the liberation of Palestine, so that we have two holidays instead of one,” said Wadih Ali Khalifah, a 32-year-old Saudi pilgrim. In a message to Haj 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”.