Pilgrims return to Mecca as hajj winds down

  • 04/09/2017

More than two million pilgrims participating in the hajj have begun returning to Mecca for final prayers as the world's largest annual gathering of Muslims winds down.

Senior Saudi officials said on Sunday the ritual, which has in the past seen deadly stampedes, fires and riots to which authorities sometimes struggle to respond, had gone off without incident.

Mecca province governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal, who heads the central hajj committee, called this year's pilgrimage a success.

Thousands of pilgrims participated in a symbolic stoning of the devil, part of the hajj rituals, in Jamarat before returning to Mecca. By nightfall, Mecca's Grand Mosque was crowded with worshippers.

Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites and organising the pilgrimage.

More than 2.3 million pilgrims came to Saudi Arabia this year, most of them from abroad, for the five-day ritual. Attendance is a religious duty, once in a lifetime, for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

More than 100,000 members of the security forces and 30,000 health workers were on hand this week to maintain safety and provide first aid.

A crush in 2015 killed nearly 800 pilgrims, according to Riyadh, when two large groups of pilgrims arrived at a crossroads east of Mecca. Counts by countries of repatriated bodies showed over 2000 people may have died, including more than 400 Iranians.

Tehran sent nearly 90,000 pilgrims to the hajj this year after boycotting the event last year amid a diplomatic rift with Riyadh.

Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabeeah said the pilgrimage had passed without any outbreak of disease, a perennial concern.

He told Reuters in an interview late on Saturday that the ministry had also provided care to 400,000 people, including 21 open-heart surgeries.