Muslims from around the world hurled pebbles at a giant wall in a symbolic stoning of the devil on Sunday, the start of the riskiest part of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, and organizing the world’s largest annual Muslim gathering which retraces the route Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries ago.
Tens of thousands of security forces and medics are deployed alongside modern technology including surveillance drones to maintain order.
Nearly 2-1/2 million pilgrims, mostly from abroad, have arrived for the five-day ritual, a religious duty once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. They are asked to follow carefully orchestrated schedules for each stage of hajj.
Under close supervision and clad in white robes signifying a state of purity, the faithful converged on Jamarat to perform the stoning ritual from a three-storey bridge erected to ease congestion.
They will return to the bridge over the next two days for more stoning before returning to Mecca to pray at the Grand Mosque at the end of hajj.
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received well-wishers on Sunday afternoon at a palace gathering attended by royals, clerics, military leaders, ministers and distinguished guests to mark the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.