Almost two million Muslim pilgrims took part in the symbolic "Stoning of Satan" ritual on Monday, the first day of the Islamic feast of Al-Adha (sacrifice) that rounds off the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Pilgrims from 160 countries, to cries of "Allah Akhbar" (God is Great), hurled stones at three giant pillars representing the devil, in the Mina valley near the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammad in Mecca.
As part of measures to avoid a crush, elderly pilgrims had a head start Sunday night on the stoning ritual. In 1998, at least 118 pilgrims died and more than 180 were injured in a stampede during the third and last day of the stoning at Mina.
The site at Mina in present-day western Saudi Arabia is where Abraham, his wife Hagar and their son Ismail are said to have thrown seven stones each at the devil when he appeared before them.
After Sunday's climax to the pilgrimage on the plain of Arafat, where the faithful prayed for forgiveness at the site of Mohammad's last sermon 14 centuries ago, the pilgrims moved to Muzdalifah to gather stones unloaded there by trucks.
Like Muslims around the world, the pilgrims also slaughter sheep, goats, camels and cattle for Monday's feast of Al-Adha to mark Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God.
Saudi authorities have set up a huge abattoir with a workforce of almost 46,000 people, including veterinary surgeons, to oversee the slaughter of around 700,000 sheep, goats, cows and camels during the Eid (feast).
Almost 1.5 million pilgrims have poured into Saudi Arabia this year, joining around 500,000 Muslim pilgrims who live in the kingdom, for the Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Every able-bodied Muslim with the financial means is required to make the Hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Saudi Arabia has reported no serious incidents during this year's Hajj, following two previous years that have also been free of disaster amid a tightening of security measures since the Mina stampede -- MINA, Saudi Arabia (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )