Some 1.4 million Muslims have traveled from overseas to Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage to Islam's holiest sites in Mecca, a high-ranking Saudi official said Saturday, March 3.
Saudi vice-minister of interior in charge of security, Prince Mohammad bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, said "the number of pilgrims from overseas is 1,363,992, including 606,301 women (44 percent)." The 2001 figure is up from 1,267,555 in 2000 and 1,056,730 in 1999, he said.
The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is obligatory for all Muslims sound of body and able to pay for the trip.
The pilgrimage began in earnest Saturday with an all-night vigil in the Mina valley near Mecca, the cradle of Islam, and the next day the faithful will scale Mount Arafat, 12 kilometers (seven miles) away, to stone the devil.
On Monday, the last day of the hajj and the start of the Al-Adha (sacrifice) feast, the faithful sacrifice a sheep and they will also stone three pillars symbolizing Satan.
The stoning will continue for three successive days, with each pilgrim having to throw seven stones against the crudely built pillars.
According to tradition Satan appeared three times to Abraham, his wife Hagar and their son, Ismael, who took turns stoning him seven times to indicate their contempt of the devil.
Saudi King Fahd, who holds the title of "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to mosques in Mecca and the nearby holy city of Medina, asked pilgrims on Monday to cooperate with the Saudi authorities during the hajj. — (AFP, Jeddah)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )