Hajj pilgrims perform devil-stoning ritual near Mecca


Hundreds of thousands of Muslims on Saturday threw stones at a symbolic representation of the devil as part of the annual Hajj pilgrimage now underway in Saudi Arabia.

The final ritual of the Hajj, the "Great Jamara" -- in which pilgrims throw seven stones at a wall representing Satan -- is intended to remind Muslims of the devil's constant efforts to lead the faithful astray.

According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Ibrahim was the first to perform the ritual after the devil tried to incite him to disobey Allah.

According to the Saudi authorities, more than 2.35 million pilgrims are taking part in this year's pilgrimage, some 1.75 million of whom came from overseas.

On Saturday, the fourth day of the five-day Hajj ritual, throngs of pilgrims converged on the Jamrat Bridge in the tent city of Mina near the city of Mecca to perform the stoning ritual.

The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia is a religious obligation for Muslims, who must make the journey -- if financially feasible -- at least once in their lives.

Considered the fifth "pillar" of Islam, the Hajj is intended to demonstrate the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah.

While the Hajj is generally associated with Islam's final prophet, Muhammad, who lived in the seventh century, the pilgrimage to Mecca is believed by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to pre-Islamic times.

The pilgrimage takes place every year from the 8th to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar.

On these five days, Muslim pilgrims converge on Mecca, where they circumambulate the Kaaba seven times; run between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah; drink water from the sacred Well of Zamzam; stand vigil on the plains of Mount Arafat; and, finally, throw stones at the devil.

Pilgrims then cut their hair and sacrifice an animal -- meat from which is traditionally distributed to the poor -- before celebrating the Eid al-Adha, or "Feast of the Sacrifice," which began on Friday.

Because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, the date of the Hajj changes each year on western calendars.

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