Published November 27, 2009
MINA, Saudi Arabia – Vast crowds of pilgrims cast stones at walls representing the devil on the third day of the annual hajj on Friday as Muslims around the world began celebrating Eid al-Adha, the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar.
The weather was sunny and hot Friday morning over the desert valley on Mina, a contrast to the unusually heavy rains that soaked the faithful on the pilgrimage's opening day Wednesday. The downpours caused heavy flooding in the nearby Red Sea coastal city of Jiddah, killing 83 people.
The stoning rituals at Mina have long been the most hazardous of the hajj. The pilgrims — more than 3 million this year — file past three stone walls representing Satan and stop to pelt them with stones in a symbolic rejection of temptation. In the heavy traffic, crushes and pileups have killed hundreds, most recently in 2006.
But since then, Saudi authorities have built a giant multi-story ramp around the walls, allowing people to stone on five different levels, spreading out the crowd and preventing jams.
On Friday, the huge masses of men in white robes and women streamed over the sprawling structure, which resembles an immense, nearly kilometer-long (0.6 mile) parking garage. They furiously threw pebbles at the walls, denouncing the devil.
Afterward, pilgrims shaved their heads in a sign of renewal — or clipped off a lock if they balked at shaving themselves bald.
The stoning rituals will be repeated for two more days, ending the pilgrimage. The hajj is a religious duty for every Muslim able to carry it out.
The first day of stoning also marks the start of Eid al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice, when Muslims around the world traditionally slaughter sheep and cattle in remembrance of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son.
In the Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007, residents slaughtered livestock to celebrate the holy day. Muslims are asked to give a third of all meat to the poor and another third to relatives — making Eid one of the few times in impoverished Gaza that most residents eat meat.
In the northern Gaza town of Jabalia, sheep were shoved into makeshift sidewalk pens, then dragged out for slaughter by butchers, who lay the animals on the ground with their heads pointed toward the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
The butchers then called out "In the name of Allah!" and slit the beast's throat.
Other workers then swiftly skinned, gutted and chopped up the animals, tossing innards into big metal buckets.
"Even in tough times, we have to keep up this tradition," said Ibrahim Yunis, 65, standing with his daughter, who was excitedly filming the spectacle on her mobile phone. Yunis, a retired school teacher, said he saved up all year to pay $280 for a fat sheep.
Butchers in Jabalia said sheep smuggled through tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt were cheaper because they carried less meat. Abu Nidal, 40, who was sitting with his son, said he paid $150 for a sheep six months ago and fattened it himself for the holiday.
In Cairo, meanwhile, worshippers crammed into mosques and spilled out onto the streets for the Eid prayers Friday morning.
Egypt's grand Mufti Ali Gomma called on Muslims in his traditional Eid sermon to avoid wasteful spending and instead support charities.
"A good Muslim should bring happiness to the hearts of fellow human beings" he said.
After the early morning prayers, the faithful flocked to makeshift animal markets, while others, dressed in their finest clothes, headed to cemeteries to visit the graves of dead friends and relatives.