Mina goes high-tech (plus a pic or two)
The scene in Mina today is very festive. It’s not easy wearing the ihram – and all the conditions it brings with it – and most pilgrims are in a rush to remove it as soon as they can. The first step in that process happens with the “stoning of the devil” ritual.
Basically, it’s where pilgrims take small pebbles and flick them at a pillar that’s supposed to symbolize Satan. It’s seen as a physical expression of the internal struggle that we fight everyday.
In the past, Mina’s been the scene of some ugly stampedes, but today went more or less without incident. The entire area has been completely transformed. The pillar was once a small pillar maybe twenty feet high and a few feet wide.
Several years ago, Saudi officials extended the pillar and added new floors. This year, they’ve redone the whole thing again. The pillar is now a large wall, well-lit in a complex that resembles an airport parking garage. There are hospitals and emergency clinics attached to the compound, retractable barriers, and armed guards stations at every entrance/exit point. They’ve also got elevators, and large ramps to handle extra traffic.
It’s all got a very 28 Days Later kind of feel to it. The criticism, of course, is that some pilgrims say it can all take away from the historical nature of the ritual. Others would say if it means preventing stampedes, it’s worth it.
Once the stoning ritual is complete, pilgrims are then supposed to sacrifice a lamb and offer the meat to the needy. Nowadays, it can be done online. You log on, pay for however many sacrifices you want, and get an email notification once it’s been completed.
Now that’s Hajj 2.0.
Once that’s done, the ihrams come off, and most pilgrims shave their heads. Still haven’t decided if I’ll shave mine. I’m here, primarily, as a journalist and want to remain objective.
Still… it really is a once in a lifetime thing. Hard to say no.
Mina at night
A lone recycling bin stands next to the Jamaarat al Wasat, or the middle Satan, in Mina. Close to 3 million pilgrims are taking part in this year's Hajj