Millions of pilgrims streamed down the Mount of Arafat with the sunset on Thursday, heading to Muzdalifah, after carrying out the main hajj ritual by spending the whole day on Arafat.
In Muzdalifah, which is located between Mina and Arafat, the pilgrims will collect pebbles, to be used the following day to hurl at three large walls representing Satan at al-Jamarat Bridge, between Mecca and Mina.
The symbolic “stoning of the devil” is followed by the ritual sacrifice of an animal, usually a lamb.
During the remaining three days of the hajj, the pilgrims continue the stoning ritual before performing the circumambulation of the Holy Kaaba in Mecca and heading home.
Saudi authorities said that some 3.4 million Muslims from more than 300 nations were performing hajj this year. More than 100,000 members of the security and civil defense forces have been deployed to ensure the safety of the pilgrims, while some 3,000 CCTV cameras have been installed across hajj sites.
Each able-bodied Muslim is required to make the hajj once in a lifetime, as it is one of Islam’s five pillars. All male pilgrims must wear seamless white garments of terrycloth and seamless shoes to show the equality among Muslims.
Thousands of tents were pitched alongside the main roads to Mount Arafat since early Thursday. As the sun rose, pilgrims were still streaming in and others who had already secured their spot were sleeping in tents or on slabs of rock.
“It’s impressive to see the amount of people from all backgrounds asking Allah for forgiveness,” Babacar Diagne, 47, a Canadian originally from Senegal in West Africa, told Reuters. He looked down the mountain towards a sea of people all dressed in simple white robes.
“The atmosphere is excellent. I spent the time in prayers and asking for God’s forgiveness,” Hamada Awad Metwally, an Egyptian, told AFP. “I have come to Mount Arafat early in the morning and now I am walking to Muzdalifah,” he said.
Saudi authorities have spent billions of dollars in recent years improving hajj infrastructure to avoid of stampedes and accidents.
Hundreds of cameras and other monitoring devices are fixed around the main sites of the hajj, including the Grand Mosque, Mount Arafat and al-Jamarat Bridge, to monitor crowd levels.
“We’re using technology that allows us to take the right decisions at the right time,” said Mansour al-Turki, the Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman.
“If we notice that the number of pilgrims is increasing in one area we can take preventive measures so that the intensity doesn't grow in a way that harms the pilgrims.”
At al-Jamarat Bridge, the authorities built extensive new facilities to ease the flow of pilgrims seeking to hurl pebbles at three pillars representing the devil.
They replaced the pillars with long walls and built a multi-story bridge around them, creating far more space for the pilgrims to stand on the bridge levels and perform the rite.
Meanwhile, Fahad Abu Tarboush, General Manager of the so-called Rituals Train, was quoted by AFP as saying that the train “is operating in its full capacity this year, which is 17 trains in both ways.” He explained that the train started working at 9:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Wednesday, transferring pilgrims to Arafat, until 10:00 am (0700 GMT) on Thursday.
At 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) Thursday, the train started transferring pilgrims from Arafat to Muzdalifah; a process that is likely to continue until the early hours of Friday. “More than 540,000 pilgrims are being transferred by the train” on Thursday, he said.
Abu Tarboush expected that around 1.5 million pilgrims will benefit from the train during the 3 following devil-stoning days– known as the ‘Days of Tashreeq’.