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Middle East: Hajj Pilgrims Perform Final Rituals, Begin Eid Al-Adha Celebration

Pilgrims being shorn today after taking part in the stoning of the devil ritual The Muslim world is celebrating Eid al-Adha -- or Feast of the Sacrifice -- as the hajj pilgrimage reaches its end in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Thousands of pilgrims began one of the final -- and most dangerous -- rituals of the hajj early today. They threw seven small stones at large pillars that represent the devil. Some 250 pilgrims were trampled to death during this part of the hajj in 2004, while 1,500 died in a similar fashion in 1999.

Prague, 20 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Most of the 2 million pilgrims in Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage were expected to perform the stoning ritual around midday today. But due to past tragedies at the hajj, a fatwa -- or special edict -- was issued this year to allow Muslims to start the ritual early in the morning.

This year, Saudi authorities have taken additional measures to avoid stampedes. They have widened the road leading to the pillars and included two new emergency exits. Three new columns, called "jamarat," symbolize the devil, were also put into place. They are taller and wider, so people can throw the stones from farther away.

Faisal Ali, an editor at "Arab News," a Saudi English-language daily, spoke to RFE/RL from the Jamarat Bridge, which leads to the pillars.

"Now I can see the pillars that symbolize Satan," Ali said. "And people are full of enthusiasm. I can see a sea of humanity going towards the jamarat pillars to stone [them]. Nothing unpleasant has happened as yet. But I am keeping my fingers crossed that -- inshallah [God willing] -- everything will pass on peacefully."

By late afternoon, pilgrims were expected to return to Mecca -- about 1.5 kilometers away -- to circle the Kaaba in the last ritual of the pilgrimage. The Kaaba is the large stone structure that Muslims face during their five daily prayers.
"It is banned to shed human blood. We should fulfill the will of Allah that tells us to establish peace and security on the Earth, to stop abusing and killing human beings." -- Ravil Gaynuddin, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia

One of the most important Islamic holidays, Eid al-Adha marks the end of the hajj and is considered a feast of commitment, obedience, and self-sacrifice. During the Eid, most pilgrims sacrifice animals -- usually sheep -- to Allah. This tradition has a special meaning for Muslims. It honors the Prophet Ibrahim's (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail because of his obedience and devotion to God.

Sheikh Muhammad Sodyq Muhammad Yusuf is a prominent Islamic scholar from Uzbekistan.

"Sacrifice has become a duty of the hajj," Yusuf said. "Those who don't go on the hajj can make a sacrifice, too. But only those who are able to give zakat [charity -- one of five pillars of Islam], those who came of age, can make a sacrifice, according to the Hanafi branch of Islam."

Within three days after slaughter, one-third of the meat is distributed to the poor, one-third to neighbors and relatives, while one-third is kept by the person who offered the sacrifice for use within his or her own family.

Those who cannot travel to Mecca observe the holiday by gathering for congregational prayers on the Eid morning and by giving alms to the needy.

The holiday is considered a day to end quarrels and wars.

The chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gaynuddin, spoke about Eid to RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service.

"We are banned from shedding blood, other than that of animals to sacrifice for the name of Allah," Gaynuddin said. "It is banned to shed human blood. We should fulfill the will of Allah that tells us to establish peace and security on the Earth, to stop abusing and killing human beings."

Saudi Arabia's King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah called on Muslims performing the hajj to reject terrorism and extremism. Their speech, delivered on television by the Saudi information minister, described terrorism as a "plague" that "Islam proscribes and warns against."

And the state-appointed cleric at the Grand Mosque in Mecca warned Muslims to reject militants' calls to wage terrorist attacks in the name of Islam.

In violence-plagued Iraq, worshippers gathered today at mosques and prayed for security and stability in the country.

"We greet all Muslims during the holy festivity of Eid al-Adha, and we pray to God to give us security and to unite us to protect Iraq from all hypocrisy and hardship, and to have peace in the country -- a country of peace and security," said Iyad Najam, a worshipper at the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad.

On Eid al-Adha, Muslims wear new clothes, give gifts, especially to children, cook, and visit the old and the poor.

(Alsu Kurmasheva of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service contributed to this report.)

See also:

"The Hajj (Part 1) -- A Look At The History, Rituals, And Meaning Of The Pilgrimage"

"The Hajj (Part 2) -- Increasing Numbers Of Younger Pilgrims Are Making The Journey"

"The Hajj (Part 3) -- Complaints Of Bribery, Corruption, Price-Gouging Taint Religious Pilgrimage"

"The Hajj (Part 4) -- Pilgrims Dismiss Terror Fears Amid Saudi Security Deployment"

"Hajj Reaching Climax Under Tight Security Measures"