Hajj Stoning Ritual to be Shortened after Last Year’s Stampede

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Riyadh: The Jamarat stoning ritual will be more tightly controlled during Haj this year, after hundreds died in a stampede at last year’s pilgrimage. The period during which pilgrims can perform Jamarat will be reduced by 12 hours, the Saudi Gazette and Arab News said. The symbolic stoning of the devil will be performed as usual over three days beginning September 11 at Mina, about five kms east of Mecca’s Grand Mosque. But this year there will be no stoning allowed from 6am to 10.30am on the first day, from 2pm to 6pm on the second day and from 10.30am to 2pm on the final day, the Saudi Haj ministry said. “This procedure will enable the pilgrims to throw stones easily and will prevent any stampede that may result from overcrowding,” Haj ministry undersecretary Hussain Al Sharif told the Saudi Gazette. The stampede was the worst disaster in Haj history. It occurred outside the five-storey Jamarat Bridge, a structure resembling a huge parking garage which hosts the stoning ritual and costs more than US$1 billion to build. It is almost a kilometre long and allows 300,000 pilgrims an hour to carry out the ritual. Pilgrims blamed the stampede on police road closures and poor management of the flow of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in soaring temperatures. In another crowd control move, pilgrims are not allowed to circumambulate the holy Kaaba one hour before or after regular prayers at the Grand Mosque when they begin their Haj.