Millions of Muslims prepare to stone devil at haj

Sun Dec 7, 2008 2:29pm EST
 
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By Inal Ersan

MUZDALIFA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - More than two million Muslim pilgrims headed to Muzdalifa on Sunday to cast stones at the devil in the most dangerous part of the haj pilgrimage.

A sea of pilgrims, some on foot, some in vehicles, moved from the plain of Arafat down a desert boulevard lit by towering floodlights. At Muzdalifa, just outside Mecca, they gathered small pebbles to throw at large walls at the Jamarat Bridge, symbolizing the rejection of temptation.

"I'm very proud to be a Muslim today. No other religion can gather this many people for any event," said Zahi Khan, a 58-year-old Pakistani.

Pilgrims will spend the next three days visiting the bridge as well as revisiting the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Monday is also Eid al-Adha, commemorating the willingness of biblical patriarch Abraham to sacrifice his son for God.

The bridge has been the scene of a number of deadly stampedes -- 362 people were crushed to death there in 2006 in the worst haj tragedy since 1990.

Saudi authorities have made renovations to ease the flow of pilgrims at the Bridge, adding an extra level so that pilgrims have four platforms from which to throw stones each day.

They are also making clear appeals to pilgrims this year to throw their stones at any time of day rather than only in the afternoon, as Saudi clerics have often insisted in the past.

Saudi Arabia has not so far reported any glitches in the haj, a logistical feat of organization that has been marred in previous years by deadly fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and stampedes caused by overcrowding.   Continued...

 
<p>A general view is seen of Muslim pilgrims outside Mecca December 7, 2008. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah</p>