MECCA (DPA) - Hundreds of thousands of Muslims began the symbolic ritual of stoning the devil near the Saudi holy city of Mecca as part of the annual Haj pilgrimage on Sunday (Aug 11), the first day of Islam's festival of Eid al-Adha.
Large numbers of security forces have been deployed across the desert valley of Mina, around 7km north-east of Mecca, to prevent any stampede during the three-day stoning rite.
In 2015, Mina was the scene of a stampede that killed hundreds of pilgrims, a tragedy that triggered tensions between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran.
The official Saudi news agency SPA reported that Saturday's (Aug 10) stoning was running smoothly inside a multi-level structure known as the Jamarat Bridge.
Security personnel were regulating the groups of pilgrims at the site where the faithful ritually cast pebbles at pillars symbolising the devil.
The pilgrims, wearing seamless pieces of white cloth, chanted "God is the greatest" each time they threw a pebble.
Upon finishing the stone-throwing ritual on the first day of Eid al-Adha, male pilgrims traditionally change out of their robes, shave their heads and slaughter a sacrificial animal. Women cut a lock of their hair. The practices mark spiritual rejuvenation.
Around 2.4 million Muslims are attending this year's Haj, according to official Saudi figures.
Devout Muslims are expected to perform the Haj, one of Islam's five pillars, at least once in their lifetime, provided they are fit enough and have the financial means to do so.