- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Pilgrims start devil-stoning rite at climax of haj
- Date: 10th January 2006
- Summary: HELICOPTER OVERHEAD
- Embargoed: 25th January 2006 12:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA9PPV0H922BZT8TOSBG3BGZZCX
- Story Text: More than two million Muslim pilgrims began the ritual stoning of the devil on Tuesday (January 10), the climax of the annual haj pilgrimage and an occasion that has led to deadly stampedes in the past.
Some pilgrims rushed to the site early in the morning to cast their first set of stones before the crowds arrived.
"It feels great, it really feels great. It's a fantastic day today," a pilgrim from Bangladesh said.
Some 250 pilgrims were crushed to death in 2004 at Mena's Jamarat Bridge, where the millions of pilgrims must stand to stone three thick walls in a symbolic casting out of the devil and rejection of temptation. "Today is the most beautiful day of my life because this is my first time do do the haj pilgrimage. My son is with me and it is a wonderful feeling. I hope god accepts this pilgrimage from us and all Muslims. Everything went smoothly, it was great. I was worried and afraid about the crowds but it was easy," another pilgrim from Egypt said.
King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan, in a message marking Tuesday's Eid al-Adha holiday, said "We ask God to make this Eid one of peace and stability for Muslims and the whole world and unite Muslims in goodness and inspire them to do what is right."
Saudi Arabia has deployed a record 60,000 security men to control the huge crowd and avert attacks by Islamist militants fighting the U.S.-allied Saudi royal family.
This year's pilgrimage, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim, has been overshadowed by the collapse of a Mecca hostel that killed 76 people on Thursday and warnings of a possible spread of deadly bird flu due to the huge crowds.
Saudi Arabia has spent 25 million riyals (6.7 million U.S. dollars) on Tamiflu, a drug that can reduce the severity of the current bird flu strain if taken within days of symptoms appearing. Three children in Turkey, which has a large haj contingent, have died of the highly potent H5N1 strain. Many pilgrims come from Asian countries, where 74 people have died since 2003.
Pilgrims must perform the stoning ritual three times. Many will stay in Jamarat until Thursday, the end of the five-day haj whose rules were laid out by the Prophet Mohammad 1,400 years ago.
The government has reorganised access to the area and promised to remove pilgrim squatters who camp there.
Pilgrims, male and female, complete the first stoning session and then go to Mecca to circle the Kaaba, which symbolises the house of God, dressed in white robes meant to eradicate class and make all Muslims equal.
Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudeis, state-appointed preacher at the Grand Mosque, urged Muslims in his Eid sermon to remember their co-religionists in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in Iraq, wracked by civil strife since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. He also said the West was using the phenomenon of terrorism to scare people away from Islam.
During Eid, Muslims slay livestock as a reminder of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail at God's command. Pilgrims buy special coupons from haj organisers that represent the slain animal.
Mecca, a city of traders who make their living from the pilgrim traffic, comes alive as pilgrims flock to the Grand Mosque and circle the Kaaba and then queue at barbers for a haircut.
Authorities were embarrassed by the collapse of the Mecca hostel, only 30 years old, amid the midday bustle of a narrow market street. The legitimacy of Saudi Arabia's ruling house rests in the eyes of many Muslims on its ability to host some 2.5 million haj pilgrims every year.
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