MAKKAH – More than 1.8 million Muslim pilgrims will begin leaving the holy city of Makkah, concluding peacefully the last of the solemn rituals of the soul-searching journey of hajj.
In the last ritual of the annual pilgrimage, the white-clad pilgrims performed the final Tawaf (circumambulation) as they walked seven times around the Ka`bah in the Grand Mosque complex in Makkah.
The Ka`bah, with a black stone set in the eastern corner, is not an object of worship, though Muslims pray towards it, but a sanctuary and a spiritual center.
The farewell Tawaf should be done at the last hour before leaving Makkah. If the pilgrim spends another night in Makkah after the tawaf, he or she must repeat the ritual.
The farewell circumambulation came after the pilgrims, some in groups others alone, completed on Thursday the three-day ritual of stoning the Devil at Jamrat Al-Aqaba, hurling pebbles at all three wide walls representing Satan.
The first Haj return flight from Prince Muhammad Bin Abdul Aziz International Airport in Madinah will take off on Friday.
Director of the airport Muhammad Al-Fadil said as many as 2,091 flights by Saudi Arabian Airlines and 41 other international airlines will fly home about 500,000 pilgrims, an increase of 17 percent from last year’s flights.
Muslims from around the world pour to Makkah every year to e perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Muslims who perform hajj properly return to their homes having all their sins washed way as promised by Prophet Muhammad.
Concluding hajj, Makkah Emir Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who is the chairman of the Central Haj Committee, reiterated that the Kingdom would never allow the fifth pillar of Islam to be used for political or sectarian purposes.
“Throughout its history, the Kingdom has never allowed Haj to be a political event with heinous agenda and is not ready to allow the politicization of the pilgrimage,” he said in a TV interview cited by Saudi Gazette on Thursday.
For the first time in nearly three decades, Iran’s 64,000 pilgrims did not attend the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia after the two regional rivals failed to agree on security and logistics.
“Combat this sectarian divide between Muslims. Islam is one and only one religion,” Faisal said in Mina, a pilgrimage site on the edge of Makkah.
Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s holiest sites, which pilgrims visit during the Hajj, and is the seat of Sunni Islam which predominates in the Muslim world.
“The kingdom categorically rejects that the Hajj serves any political purpose,” Saudi King Salman, said in a brief address to international VIPs attending the pilgrimage.
Tehran had accused Riyadh of “blocking the path leading to Allah.”
Among the contentious issues was security after last year’s Hajj stampede which, according to foreign officials, killed roughly 2,300 people.
The rivals have no diplomatic relations and have been engaged in a slanging match over the Hajj since last week.
“Islam is unique. There is no multiple Islam,” said Faisal, president of the Central Hajj Committee.
He said this year’s Hajj occurred without incident despite “the lies and allegations… of those who wanted to place in doubt the capacity of the kingdom to serve the pilgrims.”