The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to Allah. Pilgrims clad in white robes signifying a state of purity converged on Jamarat to perform the stoning ritual from a three-storey bridge erected to ease congestion after stampedes in previous years. Nearly two and a half million pilgrims, mostly from abroad, have arrived for the five-day ritual, a symbolic stoning of the devil, a religious duty once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. It has deployed tens of thousands of security forces and medics and is also using modern technology including surveillance drones to maintain order.
The 2015 crush, the worst disaster at haji in at least a quarter of a century, when two large groups of pilgrims met at crossroads on the way to the stoning site, killed more than 2500 people. Saudi authorities said at the time that the crush may have been caused by pilgrims failing to follow crowd control rules. Pilgrimage is also the backbone of a Saudi plan to expand tourism. Saudi Arabia said 1.85 million pilgrims from 180 different countries joined more than 600,000 Saudi residents in the journey this year.