21 January 2005

Bush Stoned by Pilgrims

Many Pilgrims Stone 'Devil' Bush in Haj Ritual

Jan 21, 9:58 AM (ET)

By Andrew Hammond

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)."


Saudi Arabia, facing a storm of criticism, revamped the Jamarat area, expanding the stoning targets and deploying thousands of security forces to control the crowd.

They also replaced the three pillars the pilgrims stone with thick walls providing a larger target to prevent the crush that normally occurs at the site.

Graffiti denouncing Bush had daubed the pillars. The new walls have so far remained clean.

Other pilgrims said politics did not cross their minds. "This is all about God, and that's all I was thinking about when I threw the stones," Yemeni Ali al-Suweiny said.

Pilgrims, in white robes meant to eradicate differences in race and class between Muslims, have poured into the Jamarat area since Thursday, the first day of the stoning ritual and the start of the Eid al-Adha feast.

Most pilgrims will finish by Friday -- the penultimate day of the haj -- and then go to Mecca to circle the Kaaba, which symbolises the house of God, for the final time.

"Thank God, we have not witnessed anything unusual or any accidents or deaths so far during the stoning," Brigadier Mansour al-Turki told reporters. "We hope the improvements will continue to keep the pilgrims safe."

This year's pilgrimage, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim, has been overshadowed by the Asian tsunami disaster and the threat of al Qaeda-linked violence in the kingdom, which has been battling the group for nearly two years.

"Terrorism is a result of a sick mentality and of a deviant methodology," King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah said in the speech carried on the state news agency SPA.

"Terrorism is corruption on earth and aims toward destruction and fighting God, his Prophet and Muslims ... and God promised the harshest punishment for corruptors," they said.

The haj was first performed by Islam's Prophet Mohammad 1,400 years ago.


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