MENA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Haj pilgrims pelted stones at symbols of the devil on Friday, with many saying they were targeting President Bush and other world leaders seen as oppressing Muslims.
Last year, 250 people were crushed to death at Mena’s Jamarat Bridge, but so far new measures by the Saudi authorities have averted any stampedes. This year, more than 2.5 million Muslims streamed into the area for the stoning, meant as an act of purification and rejection of temptation.
Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah, in a joint speech, urged Muslims to shun terrorism which they said meant “warring against God and his Prophet,” to follow Islam’s teachings of moderation and forgiveness and to unite.
Many pilgrims said they were thinking of Bush and his allies while they were hurling pebbles at the site where the devil is said to have appeared to the biblical patriarch Abraham.
“Yes, the devil is Bush and that other one from Israel — (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon. And there’s (British Prime Minister) Blair too,” said Egyptian Tia’amah Mohammed.
“We throw the stones so we can vent our anger at them.”
Many Muslims revile Bush for his perceived bias toward Israel and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Anger at Sharon also runs deep over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and Jerusalem, the site of one of Islam’s holiest shrines.
British journalist Yvonne Ridley, who converted to Islam following her capture by the Taliban in 2001 in the buildup to the Afghan war, said: “During the stoning I couldn’t help thinking of Bush, Blair and Sharon.”
Syrian Ibrahim Hussein added: “I was throwing stones at the devil because through that we cleanse ourselves of sin. When throwing the stones you shouldn’t be thinking of political issues, or Bush and Sharon — that’s for our prayers (against them).”