Makkah (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Almost 1.5 million pilgrims marked today the end of Hajj, the pilgrimage that every good Muslim must undertake at least once in his or her lifetime. Eid Al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, marks the end of the journey. It honours Abraham's willingness to obey God's command to sacrifice his son Ishmael, who was saved at the last moment when he was replaced with a ram.
To commemorate the event, Muslims offer to sacrifice animals to God. More than 3.2 million heads of sheep, cattle and camels were made available this year for the celebration, divided among friends and relatives. One part goes to the poor, according to the principles that solidarity and friendship are the foundation of the community and that everything that is good is a gift from God to be shared with the needy.
Yesterday, Muslims gathered in the plain around Mount Arafat, also known as the Mount of Mercy (Jabal ar-Rahmah), a small hill where Mohammed delivered his farewell sermon and his exhortations about religious, economic, social and political reforms. A small white pillar on top of the hill marks the place where the Prophet stood more than 14 centuries ago. Every pilgrim tries to get as close to it as possible to pray.
Dressed in white, the faithful listened to the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz Al- Asheikh. Delivering his sermon from the pulpit at Al-Nimira Mosque, he said, "The Muslim community is targeted by the enemies of Islam" who "want to serve blows, sow divisions and spread chaos."
Hence, "It is necessary for Muslims to protect their homelands," he noted. For this reason, they must avoid divisions, chaos and sectarianism since there is "no salvation or happiness for the Muslim nation without adhering to the teachings of the religion".
Soon after sunset, the pilgrims headed to nearby Muzdalifah where they spent the night and collected pea-sized pebbles to perform Ramy al-Jamarat, the symbolic stoning of the devil on the last day of the pilgrimage (pictured).
According to tradition, pilgrims throw the pebbles at one the three pillars (preferably the one in the middle) that represent him, the three spots where he tried to persuade Abraham not to obey God.
In the past, riots and stampedes broke out at Jamaraat Bridge, which leads to the pillars, leaving dozens of people dead or injured.
After the stoning, men shave their hair whilst women shorten it (Khalkh), and then return to Makkah for a farewell circumambulation (ṭawāf al-wida) around the Kaaba and the final 'days of joy' (ayyām al-tashrīq) during which they exchange visits and convivial meals.