MINA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Muslims around the world are celebrating the Eid al-Adha holiday on Friday as some 2 million Muslim pilgrims carry out the final rites of the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims made their way toward a massive multi-story complex in Mina after dawn on Friday to cast pebbles at three large columns. It is here where Muslims believe the devil tried to talk the Prophet Ibrahim out of submitting to God's will.
Muslims believe Ibrahim's faith was tested when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son Ismail. Ibrahim was prepared to submit to the command, but then God stayed his hand, sparing his son. In the Christian and Jewish version of the story, Abraham is ordered to kill his other son, Isaac.
The final days of hajj coincide with the Eid al-Adha holiday, or "Feast of Sacrifice," to commemorate Ibrahim's test of faith. For the holiday, Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.
For the final three days of hajj, pilgrims sleep in a large tent valley called Mina and for three days take part in a symbolic stoning of the devil. Mina is also where more than 2,400 people were killed two years ago in a stampede and a collision of two crowds that crushed people under the force.
The Saudi government has since widened some roads in Mina to try and improve the safety of the hajj. More than 100,000 security forces are managing the hajj this year, assisting pilgrims and directing the massive crowds that move from one location to another in the areas around Mecca for five days during the hajj. The Saudi government also offers all pilgrims free health care and access to hospitals during the hajj.
Most pilgrims will remain in Mina until Monday before completing the hajj. They will then circle the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca, Islam's most sacred site, before departing. The Kaaba represents the metaphorical house of God and the oneness of God in Islam. Observant Muslims around the world face toward the Kaaba during the five daily prayers.
The five-day-long hajj is a series of rituals meant to cleanse the soul of sins and instill a sense of equality and brotherhood among Muslims. The pilgrimage is required of all Muslims with the means to perform once in a lifetime.
During the last three days of hajj, male pilgrims shave their heads and remove the terrycloth white garments worn during the hajj. Women cut off a small lock of hair in a sign of spiritual rebirth and renewal.