Over a million Muslims, including more than a lakh Indians, today participated in the symbolic stoning of the devil in Mina Valley of Saudi Arabia, the final stage of the annual Haj pilgrimage. The pilgrims converged in Mina Valley to hurl stones at concrete pillars representing the devil. The ritual began early this morning and sizeable numbers of pilgrims, wearing the ihram or two-piece seamless white garment, participated throughout the day. The ritual is meant to mirror Ibrahim's stoning of the devil when he appeared to try to dissuade the prophet from obeying God's order to sacrifice his son Ishmael.
Eid-ul-Azha is celebrated to commemorate the bravery of Ibrahim. After offering prayers at Mount Arafat yesterday, pilgrims travelled to nearby Muzdalifa to collect stones for the ritual in Mina Valley, located on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca. Early this morning, they began assembling in Mina for the stoning ritual, which has been marred in the past by stampedes and fires in tent camps. To overcome these problems, Saudi authorities have expanded the stoning area to accommodate more pilgrims and fire-proofed the tents. About 1.5 million pilgrims are performing the Haj this year. Some 100,200 Indians are among 1.38 million Muslims from 188 countries who have converged in Saudi Arabia. The total figure is almost half the 3.2 million, including 1.75 million foreigners from 190 countries, who performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's holiest site, last year. Saudi Arabia reduced the number of foreign pilgrims by 21 per cent this year and cut permits for domestic pilgrims by over 50 per cent over fears linked to the MERS respiratory virus and due to projects to expand the capacity of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Even as the Haj entered its final stage, Muslims in some countries, including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and the tribal belt of Pakistan, celebrated Eid-ul-Azha.