Hajj pilgrims return to scene of deadly stampede
Pilgrims swarmed on to multiple ramps toward the Jamarat Bridge, where the “stoning of the devil” is taking place under high security. Authorities in Saudi Arabia do not talk about last year’s stampede, which killed hundreds around Jamarat on the first day of the ritual.
Riyadh issued a toll of 769, although figures compiled from foreign officials in over 30 countries gave a stampede tally of roughly 2,300. But a number of safety measures have been undertaken this time.
“There has been a clear improvement,” said Saudi pilgrim Ibrahim Ayed, 40, returning for hajj and the stoning for the first time in a decade.
The stoning ritual coincides with Eid al-Adha, Islam’s feast of sacrifice, which is celebrated by over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. Sheep are slaughtered and the meat distributed to needy Muslims, symbolising prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael on the orders of God, who provided a lamb in the boy’s place at the last moment. Pilgrims no longer carry out the sacrifice rite themselves but pay agencies to distribute the meat.
The Jamarat ritual, which occurs in Mina at the eastern edge of Mecca, emulates Abraham’s stoning of the devil at three spots in resisting the temptation to disobey God’s order. On the first of three days of stoning, elevated cameras stationed several metres apart filmed the pilgrims, clad in white moving behind coloured flags identifying their groups.
The stoning bridge, which resembles a large multi-storey car park, was erected in the past decade at over $1 billion and was designed to prevent overcrowding. Hundreds of police were stationed on each of the Jamarat’s five floors, linked by escalators, from where pilgrims toss gravel-sized stones against rough stone walls.