Pilgrims return to Mecca for final haj rituals

Senior Saudi officials said the year's pilgrimage had passed without incident.
Thursday 23/08/2018
Muslim pilgrims pray after casting stones at three huge stone pillars in the symbolic stoning of the devil on the last day of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mina, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, August 23, 2018. (AP)
Muslim pilgrims pray after casting stones at three huge stone pillars in the symbolic stoning of the devil on the last day of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mina, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, August 23, 2018. (AP)

More than two million haj pilgrims headed back to Mecca for final prayers on Thursday as organisers said the world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims had gone smoothly in the face of political tensions and huge logistical challenges.

Senior Saudi officials said the rituals – which have been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots – had passed without incident.

Mecca province governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal, who heads the central haj committee, said staff had used new technologies to run the massive event.

Pilgrims were given electronic bracelets this year to help manage the flow of people through the sites.

“We aspire to (have) a smart haj by using technology in all future activities,” he told reporters in Mina, east of Mecca. “The development of the holy sites, which will be implemented soon, depends entirely on technology and rapid communication.”

Thousands of worshippers participated in a symbolic stoning of the devil, part of the haj rituals, in Jamarat before returning to Mecca where the Grand Mosque filled with worshippers preparing to depart.

Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites – Mecca and Medina – and its organisation of the pilgrimage. It is hoping to expand attendance to help build its tourism industry.

'A great blessing'

More than 2.37 million pilgrims came this year, most of them from abroad, for the five-day ritual. Attendance is a religious duty, once in a lifetime, for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

“I feel I am born once again,” said Egyptian pilgrim Sabah Saeed, 49. “This is a great blessing from God and it makes you so happy.”

More than 110,000 members of the security forces and 32,000 health workers were on hand this week to maintain safety and provide first aid, said organisers.

Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabeeah said the pilgrimage had passed without any outbreak of disease, a perennial concern.

On August 19, some 2 million Muslim pilgrims gathered in the valley of Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia for a day of prayer that marks the pinnacle of the annual pilgrimage.

Pilgrims stood shoulder to shoulder for an emotional day of repentance and supplication at the site Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon, calling for equality and for Muslims to unite. According to the hadiths, traditional collections of the prophet’s sayings and anecdotes about his life, Muhammad also reminded his followers of women’s rights and that every Muslim life and property is sacred.

Muslims believe prayer on this day at Mount Arafat, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the holy city of Mecca, is their best chance to erase past sins and start anew.

(Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)