By IOL Staff
MUZDALIFA, Saudi Arabia — Having stood on Mount `Arafat in the climax of hajj, three million pilgrims moved Sunday, December 7, to into the arid valley of Mina to prepare for the symbolic stoning of the devil.
Chanting "Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik (Here I am answering Your call, O God)," the faithful descended from Mount `Arafat, where Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) delivered his last sermon 14 centuries ago.
They moved on foot and in buses and vehicles to the valley of Muzdalifah, a few kilometers away, where they performed shortened Maghrib and `Isha’ prayers.
They will collect pebbles for the symbolic devil stoning.
Pilgrims will get for the first time the necessary pebbles in pre-packed bags to spare them the effort of searching for the stones.
A special committee organized the collection, washing and packaging of the pebbles after first obtaining a fatwa permitting the initiative.
Early Monday, December 8, pilgrims will move back to Mina and sacrifice an animal, usually a sheep, to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son on God's order.
This ceremony marks the start of the four-day `Eid Al-Adha, which marks the end of hajj.
Pilgrims will spend another two days in Mina for the stoning of Satan.
Pilgrims hurl seven pebbles from behind a fence or from an overhead bridge every day for three days at each of the three 18-meter (58-foot) high concrete pillars symbolizing the devil.
Satan appeared on the same site to Prophet Abraham, son Isma`il and wife Hagar, who each threw seven stones at the devil.
In a bid to ease the flow of pilgrims inside the Jamrat Bridge, Saudi authorities have added a fourth story.
Four huge escalators, each with a capacity to hold 12,000 pilgrims per hour, and ordinary stairs would bring pilgrims by the thousands to the top floor of the bridge for the ritual stoning and take them down after it.
The pilgrims spent Sunday, December 7, on `Arafat supplicating to Allah to forgive their sins and praying for Muslim unity and world peace.
Standing on Mount `Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma (Mountain of Mercy), is the climax of hajj.
Pilgrims who fail to make it on time must repeat their hajj in future.
Their ascending comes after spending a day of meditation and introspection in the tent city of Mina, marking the start of hajj.
The interior ministry has assembled 100,000 stewards to ensure safety during the hajj and the health ministry has supplied 11,000 of its medical and paramedical staff along with 140 first aid points and 24 field hospitals containing a total of 4,000 beds.
They set up poles on the streets that sprayed a light misty rain on pilgrims to ease the heat.
So far no major incidents have been reported.
A record number of pilgrims have travelled to the holy sites this year from abroad.
The interior ministry said 1,728,841 pilgrims from abroad, the highest ever number, had entered the kingdom.
They joined the hundreds of thousands of Saudi citizens and other residents participating this year.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is an obligation for all able-bodied, financially capable Muslims at least once in a lifetime.
Muslims who perform hajj properly return to their homes having all their sins washed way as promised by Prophet Muhammad.islamonline.net