Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha

Millions of pilgrims performing Hajj in Saudi Arabia have begun the act of symbolically stoning the devil as Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha - the greater of two Muslim festivals.

Pilgrims started arriving at the tent city of Mina early on Friday morning for the third day of Hajj rites, after spending the night at Muzdalifah.

Throngs of people were proceeding to the Jamarat Bridge to hurl stones at one of three walls representing the devil, historically the most dangerous rite of the Muslim pilgrimage.

The bridge has been the sight of deadly stampedes in the past, although it has been without major incident in recent years, due in part to new crowd-control mechanisms, and an expanded multi-storey structure.

This year, Saudi unveiled a fifth level of the bridge.

After the stoning, pilgrims cut or shave their hair, pay to have a livestock animal killed on their behalf to feed the poor, and head to Mecca.

Saudi TV footage showed thousands of pilgrims had reached the Grand Mosque in Mecca by mid-morning to perform a ritual circulation of the Kaaba.

Rain warning

Weather forecasts on Thursday predicted heavy rains could disrupt the day's rituals.

Thunderstorms earlier in the week had soaked the pilgrim camp sites in Mina and related floods have killed more than 80 people in the city of Jeddah so far.

Thousands of pilgrims were also reported to have been stuck in Jeddah because of the flooding, unable to begin Hajj.

A possible outbreak of H1N1 had been one of the biggest concern leading up to the start of Hajj, but Saudi authorities insist spread of the illness has been contained.

The last figures from the Saudi health ministry were 67 confirmed cases of H1N1 among pilgrims, with four of them in critical condition, and at least four deaths.

Elsewhere around the world, Muslims will be celebrating the holiday with a special morning prayer, passing out sweets and visiting family and friends.

Pilgrims will continue Hajj rites for the next two to three days, camping out at Mina and stoning the three columns representing the devil daily.

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and it is mandatory for all able-bodied Muslims with the financial means to undertake it once in their lifetimes. [adm/aljazeera]

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