MAKKAH: More than two million pilgrims participating in the Hajj this week began returning to Makkah 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, had gone off without incident.
Makkah province governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who heads the central Hajj committee, called this year’s pilgrimage a success.
“I am proud today to have offered these services and I am proud of all my brothers who participated and I am proud of each pilgrim who came to this land and assisted in the success of this season,” he told reporters in Mina, east of Makkah.
Thousands of pilgrims participated in a symbolic stoning of the devil, part of the Hajj rituals, in Jamarat before returning to Makkah. By nightfall, Makkah’s Grand Mosque was crowded with worshippers.
Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites and organizing the pilgrimage.
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,” said Yemeni pilgrim Rashid Ahmed.
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.
Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabeeah said the pilgrimage had passed without any outbreak of disease, a perennial concern.
He told Reuters in an interview late on Saturday that the ministry had also provided care to 400,000 people, including 21 open-heart surgeries.
“We are keen to offer excellent service so that the pilgrims return home in good health after completing the Hajj,” he said.