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Muslims crowd into holy places | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

MINA, Saudi Arabia – Crowds of pilgrims began a symbolic stoning of the devil in Saudi Arabia on Sunday under the scorching summer heat. The ritual marks the final days of the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world.

The Hajj is one of the largest mass gatherings in the world, with Muslim pilgrims traveling from far and wide for the spiritual experience, which is also a physical and mental challenge.

The stoning is one of the last rituals of the hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam. It came a day after more than 1.8 million pilgrims converged on a sacred hill known as Mount Ararat, outside the holy city of Mecca, as Muslim pilgrims visit to perform the annual five-day rituals of the hajj.

According to the Jordanian state news agency Petra, fourteen Jordanian pilgrims died of heatstroke during the hajj. The pilgrims died due to exposure to extreme sun and heat, the agency said, citing a report from the Jordanian Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had worked with Saudi authorities to bury the dead in Saudi Arabia or transfer them to Jordan. Another 17 pilgrims were missing, the agency said.

Mohammed Al-Abdulaali, spokesman for the Saudi Health Ministry, told reporters that more than 2,760 pilgrims suffered from sunstroke and heat stress on Sunday alone. He said these numbers are likely to increase and urged attendees to avoid the sun and drink water during peak hours. “Heat stress is the biggest challenge,” he said.

Relief measures have helped reduce the number of cases of heat stress, scientists say. Saudi authorities have used water mist sprays to cool the air, they said, and have provided water, umbrellas and air-conditioned transportation for the pilgrims.

The pilgrims left Mount Ararat on Saturday evening to spend the night at a nearby site known as Muzdalifa, where they collected pebbles to use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil.

The pillars are located at another holy site in Mecca called Mina, where Muslims believe Ibrahim’s faith was tested when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son Ismail. Ibrahim was willing to submit to the command, but then God stayed his hand and spared his son. In the Christian and Jewish versions of the story, Abraham is ordered to kill his other son, Isaac.

On Sunday morning, crowds went on foot to the stoning areas. Some were seen pushing disabled pilgrims in wheelchairs along a multi-lane road leading to the complex housing the large pillars. Most of the pilgrims were seen sweltering and carrying parasols to protect them from the scorching summer sun.

An Associated Press reporter saw many pilgrims, especially the elderly, collapse because of the heat on the way to the pillars. Security forces and medics were deployed to help, with those who fainted being taken on stretchers out of the heat to ambulances or field hospitals. As temperatures rose around noon, more people needed medical attention. According to Saudi meteorological authorities, the heat had reached 116.6 degrees Fahrenheit in Mecca and 114.8 F in Mina.

Despite the stifling heat, many pilgrims were happy to complete their pilgrimage.

“Thank God (the process) was joyful and good,” said Abdel-Moaty Abu Ghoneima, an Egyptian pilgrim. “No one wants more than this.”

Many pilgrims will spend up to three days in Mina, each throwing seven pebbles at three pillars in a ritual to symbolize the rejection of evil and sin.

While in Mina, they will visit Makkah to perform their ‘tawaf’ or circumambulation, which involves circling counter-clockwise around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque seven times. Then another circumambulation, the Farewell Tawaf, will mark the end of the Hajj as pilgrims prepare to leave the holy city.

The rituals coincide with the four-day Eid al-Adha, which means ‘Festival of Sacrifice’, during which Muslims commemorate Ibrahim’s test of faith with financial means by slaughtering livestock and animals and distributing the meat to the poor.

Most countries celebrated Eid al-Adha on Sunday. Others, like Indonesia, will celebrate on Monday.

In a statement, President Joe Biden wished Muslims around the world a blessed Eid al-Adha, noting that the holiday is a time of prayer, reflection and sacrifice.

“The Hajj and Eid al-Adha remind us of our equality before God and the importance of community and charity – values ​​that speak directly to the American character,” the report said. “The United States is blessed to be home to millions of American Muslims who enrich our nation in countless ways, from medicine to technology, education, public service, the arts and so much more.”

Once the Hajj is over, men are expected to shave their heads and remove the shroud-like white garments worn during the pilgrimage, and women are expected to cut off a lock of hair as a sign of renewal and rebirth.

Most pilgrims then leave Mecca and head to the city of Medina, about 210 miles away, to pray in the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed, the Holy Chamber. The tomb is part of the Prophet’s Mosque, one of the three holiest sites in Islam, along with the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

All Muslims are required to perform the Hajj once in their lives, if they are physically and financially able to do so. Many wealthy Muslims make the pilgrimage more than once. The rituals largely commemorate the stories of Prophet Ibrahim and his son, Prophet Ismail, Ismail’s mother Hajar and Prophet Mohammed, according to the Quran, Islam’s holy book.

More than 1.83 million Muslims performed the Hajj in 2024, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq bin Fawzan al-Rabiah said in a briefing, slightly lower than last year’s figures when 1.84 million performed the rituals.

Most Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little or no shade. It is set for the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar, so the time of year varies. And this year the pilgrimage took place in the scorching summer of Saudi Arabia.

This year’s hajj took place against the backdrop of the devastating war between Israel and Hamas, which has brought the Middle East to the brink of regional conflict.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were unable to travel to Mecca for the hajj this year due to the closure of the Rafah crossing in May, as Israel expanded its ground offensive to the city on the border with Egypt. And they will no longer be able to celebrate Eid al-Adha as they did in previous years.

Dozens of Palestinians gathered at a destroyed mosque in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis on Sunday morning to perform Eid prayers. They were surrounded by the rubble and rubble of collapsed houses. In the nearby town of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, Muslims held prayers in a school that had been converted into a shelter. Some, including women and children, went to cemeteries to visit the graves of loved ones.

Palestinians also gathered in the occupied West Bank for Eid prayers in Ramallah, the seat of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. “We are suffering greatly and going through difficult moments with (what is happening to) our brothers in Gaza,” said Mahmoud Mohana, a mosque imam.

In Sanaa, the Houthi-held capital of Yemen, and in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, Muslims celebrated and prayed for the war-weary Palestinians in Gaza.

Information for this article was contributed by Wafaa Shurafa and Abby Sewell of The Associated Press and Emma Bubola of The New York Times.

photo Muslim pilgrims walk through a street lined with discarded water bottles in Arafat, on the second day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
photo Paramedics transport a Muslim pilgrim for a medical check-up after he fell due to heat stroke near pillars in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024. Crowds of pilgrims began a symbolic stoning of the devil in Saudi Arabia on Sunday Arabia. The ritual marks the final days of the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
photo A pilgrim prepares to throw stones at a pillar during the symbolic stoning of the devil, the final ritual of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024. Crowds of pilgrims on began a symbolic stoning of the devil in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. The ritual marks the final days of the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
photo Muslim pilgrims throw stones at pillars during the symbolic stoning of the devil, the final ritual of the annual hajj, in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024. Crowds of pilgrims began a symbolic stoning of the devil on Sunday in Saudi Arabia. The ritual marks the final days of the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
photo Muslim pilgrims throw stones at pillars during the symbolic stoning of the devil, the final ritual of the annual hajj, in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024. Crowds of pilgrims began a symbolic stoning of the devil on Sunday in Saudi Arabia. The ritual marks the final days of the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
photo Muslim pilgrims throw stones at pillars during the symbolic stoning of the devil, the final ritual of the annual hajj, in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024. Crowds of pilgrims began a symbolic stoning of the devil on Sunday in Saudi Arabia. The ritual marks the final days of the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
photo Muslim pilgrims arrive to throw stones at pillars during the symbolic stoning of the devil, the final ritual of the annual hajj, in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024. Crowds of pilgrims boarded on Sunday over a symbolic stoning of the devil in Saudi Arabia. The ritual marks the final days of the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
photo Muslim pilgrims throw stones at pillars during the symbolic stoning of the devil, the final ritual of the annual hajj, in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024. Crowds of pilgrims began a symbolic stoning of the devil on Sunday in Saudi Arabia. The ritual marks the final days of the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
photo Muslim pilgrims throw stones at pillars during the symbolic stoning of the devil, the final ritual of the annual hajj, in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024. Crowds of pilgrims began a symbolic stoning of the devil on Sunday in Saudi Arabia. The ritual marks the final days of the hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, and the start of the Eid al-Adha celebrations for Muslims around the world. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)