Hajj pilgrims undertake “stoning of the devil” as Eid al-Adha celebrations begin

Muslim pilgrims perform the symbolic 'stoning of the devil' ritual as part of the hajj pilgrimage in Mina, near Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca, on June 16, 2024. Photo: AFP

Pilgrims performed the final major ritual of the hajj, the “stoning of the devil,” in western Saudi Arabia on Sunday, coinciding with Muslims worldwide celebrating the Eid al-Adha holiday.

At dawn, 1.8 million Muslims participating in this year’s pilgrimage hurled seven stones at each of three concrete walls in Mina valley, near Mecca.

This act commemorates Abraham’s defiance of Satan at three spots where it is believed Satan attempted to dissuade him from sacrificing his son at God’s command.

Over the years, the stoning ritual has seen tragic stampedes, the most devastating in 2015, resulting in up to 2,300 deaths. Since then, the site has been revamped to manage the massive crowds more efficiently.

The night before, pilgrims gathered stones and slept under the stars in Muzdalifah, located between Mina and Arafat, where they had spent the day praying in intense heat reaching 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

“It was very, very hot,” said Rohy Daiseca, a 60-year-old Gambian living in the United States. “Alhamdulilah (thank God), I put a lot of water on my head and it was OK.”

Despite the challenging conditions, worshippers embraced the opportunity to fulfill a significant religious duty. “I am so happy that I can’t describe my feelings,” said Amal Mahrouss, a 55-year-old Egyptian pilgrim. “This place shows us that we are all equal, that there are no differences between Muslims around the world.”

As one of the five pillars of Islam, the hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage for all Muslims with the means to undertake it at least once in their lifetime. This year’s attendance of 1.8 million pilgrims, including 1.6 million from abroad, mirrors last year’s numbers.

Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice, which commemorates Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son before God provided a sheep instead, sees worshippers traditionally slaughtering a sheep and distributing part of the meat to the needy.

This year’s hajj and Eid celebrations have been overshadowed by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. “We are very sad for the Palestinians, and we have prayed a lot for them,” said Intissar, a 25-year-old Syrian living in Saudi Arabia. King Salman extended invitations to 2,000 Palestinians for the hajj, including many family members of victims from Gaza.

Despite a ban on political slogans during the pilgrimage, many worshippers expressed solidarity with Palestinians. “Pray for our brothers in Palestine, in Gaza… may God give victory to the Muslims,” one pilgrim declared on Mount Arafat on Saturday.

In a message to the pilgrims, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged support for “the ironclad resistance of Palestine and the patient, oppressed people of Gaza.”