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.
The hajj: Pilgrims in their millions
Millions of devout Muslims are again conducting the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrimage this year takes place amid a backdrop of political and sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and conflicts still flare in Yemen, Syria and Libya. Muslim minorities also face increased threats, including in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a sweeping curfew is in effect. By Janina Semenova
Religious joy: an experience that must be captured and recorded. For many Muslims the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the crowning moment of their faith. It is the religious duty of every Muslim to carry out the hajj – a journey that lasts several days – at least once in their lives, providing the individual is in good health and can afford to do it. Saudi Arabia is responsible for organising the pilgrimage
Anti-clockwise: the final destination on the pilgrimage is the holy city of Mecca. All worshippers visit the Grand Mosque in the Saudi Arabian city. In the inner courtyard of the mosque is the Kaaba, the "House of God", in the form of a black cube. The pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times, always in an anti-clockwise direction
Buried under rubble: around two million people travel to Mecca every year. The pilgrimage has been frequently overshadowed by misfortune – for example, on 15 September 2015. Just as the hajj was about to begin, a storm caused a crane to collapse onto the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing more than 100 people
Trampled to death: the next tragedy occurred nearly two weeks later, on 24 September 2015. Thousands of pilgrims were trampled to death in a mass panic in the town of Mina near Mecca. This is where pilgrims are supposed to conduct the ritual stoning of the devil
Travel ban for Muslims from Iran: it is thought that some 469 Iranians were among the dead. Following the incident, Iranians demonstrated outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran. The Iranian government accused Saudi Arabia of negligence. This further exacerbated the already tense relationship between the two nations. Iran has banned its citizens from making the hajj this year
High-tech support: in response to the fatal accidents, Saudi Arabia has tightened security procedures. These include the introduction of electronic wristbands to identify each individual worshipper in the crowd. The wristbands will store personal data including health details and location, as well as inform pilgrims about prayer times
Praying on the mountain: one of the most important stations on the pilgrimage is the walk on Mount Arafat. It is here that the faithful supplicate to Allah to forgive their sins. According to Islamic tradition, this is where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon. Another high point of the hajj is the Feast of the Sacrifice or Eid, celebrated by Muslims all over the world, regardless of whether they are taking part in the pilgrimage
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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