Muslim Pilgrims Perform Hajj Ritual
By Hamza Hendawi
Associated Press Writer
Friday, February 22, 2002; 6:09 PM
MINA, Saudi Arabia –– Their faith reinforced by a day of prayers and meditation, Muslim pilgrims began the ritual of stoning the devil, rejecting his temptations Friday with cries of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great."
In perhaps the most animated part of the annual Muslim pilgrimage, the pilgrims marched – some with the resolve of soldiers going into battle – to a 50-foot pillar of stones with tiny bags of pebbles in their hands.
Once there, the estimated 2 million pilgrims one at a time took seven of the pebbles they had collected hours earlier and pelted the stone structure, which they approached in waves of thousands.
The ritual of stoning of the devil, which symbolizes the rejection of Satan's temptations, will be repeated over the next two days, with two other similar structures also pelted with the same number of pebbles.
On a second consecutive day of temperatures above 95 degrees, Friday's ritual was held under tight security with hundreds of policemen and many more believed to be operating undercover patrolling the proceedings on foot and police helicopters hovering above.
Scores of rescue and medical teams were deployed at the site. Medical workers stationed near the pillar occasionally emerged carrying stretchers with pilgrims who had fainted from the heat or fatigue.
Some pilgrims, in defiance of religious edicts and warnings by Saudi authorities, got so carried away with Friday's ritual that they shouted obscenities at the pillar, blaming the devil's influence for their personal woes.
A few angry ones vented their frustration in a different way, hurling flip-flops or shoes at the pillar, an act that's supposedly meant to reflect the contempt in which they hold the devil.
"I had nothing to say to the devil except 'Allahu Akbar,'" said Ismail al-Sayed, 35. "He's never bothered me," said the Egyptian construction worker as he shaved the head of his 2-month-old son, Mohammed.
Pilgrims, both male and female, are required to cut off a lock of their hair after the stoning of the devil ritual, but many males prefer to shave their heads.
By early evening, the entire area – including a 245-step staircase leading down to the stone structures and lined by beggars and hawkers – was littered with hair, empty water bottles and cans and rotting food.
Friday's ritual, which coincides with the first day of the Eid al-Adha, or the Muslim feast of sacrifice, comes a day after the pilgrims invoke the name of God and examine their conscience on nearby Mount Arafat, a plateau where the Muslim prophet spoke to his young nation for the last time before he died in 632 A.D.
They left Arafat soon after sunset and headed to an area called Muzdalifah, where they collected the pebbles.
The three stone structures representing the devil are located in the valley of Mina, just outside the holy city of Mecca, birthplace of Islam and its seventh century prophet.
"Oh pilgrims, be patient with each other. Don't push," one hajj official shouted in English using a bullhorn. Similar warnings came in several other languages, including Arabic, Urdu and Turkish.
Last year, about 35 Muslims died in a stampede while performing the stoning of the devil ritual.
"Today, I prayed to God for the protection of all those that are needy in Afghanistan," said Dorkhan Khian, a 36-year-old Afghan who sells car spare parts in Medina, Saudi Arabia. "I also prayed for my country to have a legitimate government like the Taliban."
He was referring to the militant regime ousted by U.S.-backed forces late last year after it refused to hand over Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks. Many Muslims criticized the war in Afghanistan as an assault on Islam.
Able-bodied Muslims are required to perform the annual pilgrimage, or hajj, at least once in their lives if they can afford it. The hajj is perceived as a spiritual journey that cleanses the soul and wipes away sins.