Pilgrims stone pillars representing Satan as hajj draws to close

MINA, Saudi Arabia (AP) – Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims hurled pebbles at stone pillars, symbolically stoning the devil Tuesday in a final rite of the hajj. Across the Islamic world, the faithful butchered sheep and cattle to kick off one of their biggest holidays, the feast of sacrifice.

The feast, called the Eid al-Adha in Arabic, commemorates Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son in God’s test of the patriarch’s faith. At the last moment, God substituted a sheep for the son. The story is shared by all the great monotheistic religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

From the Philippines to Bosnia and across the Middle East, Muslims slaughtered livestock for festive family dinners and meat donations to the poor.

At Islam’s holiest sites in Saudi Arabia, the 2.5 million Muslims participating in the annual hajj pilgrimage held the first of three days of a stoning ritual to cleanse sins. They threw pebbles at “al-Jamarat” three stone pillars symbolizing the devil.

“Alhamdulillah, (Thanks to God) I am done with the first stoning. It was easy and I managed to hit the devil,” said Abdul Bassit Amro, who had traveled from the Philippines. Pilgrims from 178 countries were registered at the hajj.

Saudi authorities have been introducing measures to prevent stampedes that have killed hundreds at al-Jamarat over the past quarter century as tens of thousands of pilgrims file past the pillars. Two years ago, 244 people were trampled to death when the crowd panicked during the stoning and 1,426 died in a similar tragedy in 1990.

Under a fatwa, or religious edict, issued two years ago, the stoning now may begin before dawn prayers in an attempt to spread out the crowds.

Under the scorching sun, white-robed pilgrims threw seven stones at the pillars at Mina, a desert region outside the holy city of Mecca. On each of the following days they will throw 21 more pebbles, collected earlier on the nearby rocky plain of Muzdalifah.

After Tuesday’s stoning, many of the male pilgrims shaved their heads, the mark of a Muslim who has completed the hajj. Islam requires that all Muslims who are financially and physically able make the pilgrimage at least once to Mecca, birthplace of the 7th century prophet Muhammad and site of the holiest shrine, the Kaaba.

Nearby, workers were slaughtering hundreds of sheep to start the Eid. Saudi authorities have instituted a system whereby pilgrims purchase a coupon costing about $120. Sheep purchased through the system are slaughtered at special facilities and distributed to the needy.

In the Egyptian capital, Cairo, blood poured across sidewalks, apartment-building stairwells and rooftops as families slaughtered sheep and cows for the holiday. At shops strung with holiday lights, butchers used bicycle pumps to inflate the freshly killed livestock and separate the skin from the meat. Brightly-lit pleasure boats on the Nile were packed with families heading out for holiday picnics.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinians marked the holiday by visiting the graves of relatives. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia lay a wreath at the grave of the late president Yasser Arafat.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai reviewed troops in Kabul alongside the country’s former king, Zaher Shah.

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