MINA, Saudi Arabia – Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims took part in the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual for a second day Wednesday in Saudi Arabia’s Mina valley, as the annual hajj neared its end.
Men, women and children from 188 countries pelted three huge concrete structures representing the devil with pebbles, in an event that seemed better organised than in previous years.
The faithful began the final stages of the annual hajj pilgrimage on Tuesday, which was also the first day of Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice.
They hurled stones only at one pillar but on Wednesday, pilgrims throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars, which they repeat over the next two days.
Those who are ill or pressed for time can complete the process on Thursday.
Shouting “Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest)”, the pilgrims hurled the stones and offered prayers.
The ease with which pilgrims carried out the symbolic ritual, which was one of the most dangerous parts of the hajj in the past, seemed to be the result of the reduced number of pilgrims and efforts by authorities to boost organisation.
Saudi Arabia’s public statistics office said on Tuesday the total number of pilgrims this year is 1.98 million, down from 3.16 million last year. The number of foreign pilgrims was 1.38 million compared to 1.75 million in 2012.
Spokesman for the interior ministry and the hajj committee Major General Mansur al-Turki said on Tuesday that the movement of pilgrims between the holy sites this year was “the best” compared to previous years.
Mina, where the stoning ritual takes place, is a city of fire-proof tents that can accommodate around two million people. It comes to life once a year during the pilgrimage.
Due to deadly accidents and stampedes in the past, the stoning area has been expanded with massive concrete structures to raise its capacity.
Saudi authorities have built a five-level structure around the three stoning sites that allows pilgrims to move in one direction through the area and prevents congestion.
The stoning ritual is an emulation of Abraham’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where it is said Satan tried to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.
Hajj comes to an end officially on Friday but the main rituals have already been completed.