Saudi Arabia announces 'successful' end to Hajj


This year's Hajj pilgrimage, Islam's largest gathering, has been "successful" and attracted almost a third more people than last year, the governor of Mecca said on Sunday.

Around 2.3 million Muslims from around the world, up 30 percent from 2016, performed this year's pilgrimage, Prince Khalid Al Faisal said at a press conference.

"More than two million pilgrims have come to this holy land in order to embody the correct humanitarian image of Muslims," added Al Faisal, who headed the government-run committee that oversaw this year's Hajj. He said no significant problems were reported in the five-day event, which started on Wednesday.

In recent years, the Hajj has been marred by political rioting, fires and deadly stampedes.

In 2015, hundreds of pilgrims – including many Iranians – were crushed to death in the stone-throwing ritual in the desert valley of Mina near Mecca, a tragedy that triggered tensions between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran. Iranians again participated this year in the event, which they boycotted in 2016 due to a row with Saudis on pilgrimage regulations.

Pilgrims started leaving Mecca on Sunday evening after they had performed the Hajj rituals "easily and smoothly," the official Saudi news agency SPA reported.

"Organisation was tight and very precise," Haroun Hassan, a Muslim pilgrim from Niger, told SPA.

Earlier on Sunday, pilgrims trekked en masse in Mina, around 7 kilometres north-east of Mecca, to perform the third and final day of the devil-stoning ritual. Each pilgrim ritually cast 21 pebbles at three walls symbolising the devil inside a multilevel structure known as the Jamarat Bridge in Mina.

Large numbers from the security force have been deployed in Mina since the ritual started on Friday to prevent potential stampedes.

The rite is an emulation of Prophet Abraham's casting of pebbles at the devil who is believed to have tried to tempt him into disobeying God's command to sacrifice his son.

The pilgrims then headed to Mecca to walk seven times around the cube-shaped Kaaba in a rite called the "farewell tawaf" that marks the end of the pilgrimage. While performing their daily prayers, Muslims face in the direction of the Kaaba housed in the Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site.

In recent years, oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has invested largely in making the pilgrimage rituals easier and safer. Devout Muslims are expected to perform the Hajj, one of Islam's five pillars, at least once in their lifetime, provided they are fit enough and have the financial means to do so.    (dpa)

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