MECCA – More than two million pilgrims participating in the haj this week began returning to Mecca on Sunday for final prayers as the world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims winds down.
Senior Saudi officials said the rituals, which have in the past seen deadly stampedes, fires and riots to which authorities sometimes struggled to respond, had gone off without incident.
Mecca province governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal, who heads the central haj committee, called this year’s pilgrimage a success.
Thousands of pilgrims participated in a symbolic stoning of the devil, part of the haj rituals, in Jamarat before returning to Mecca. By nightfall, Mecca’s Grand Mosque was crowded with worshippers.
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.
“The organization was excellent and there was no crowding or anything. Things went well, thanks to God,” Yemeni pilgrim Rashid Ahmed told Reuters.
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 2,000 people may have died, including more than 400 Iranians.
Tehran sent nearly 90,000 pilgrims to the haj this year after boycotting the event last year amid a diplomatic rift with Riyadh.