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From drunken nights out with a llama to testicle-eating fishes, it’s a mixed bag of stories you’ve been sharing on social media in 2013.

Among the top twenty Independent articles you’ve been tweeting and posting on Facebook this year, there are serious reports, ferocious comment pieces, astounding research and a fair few articles that pay tribute to the adage ‘the truth is stranger than fiction.’

Saudi issues 'fatwa' against opposition

Dubai - A leading Saudi Arabian preacher yesterday issued a religious edict, or fatwa, against the publishers of statements by a London-based Saudi opposition group.

Desert heroes shed new light on secret state: World Cup success puts Saudis under spotlight

THEY CAME round about once every eight minutes - two young boys, no more than 10 years old, running the full circle of the stadium, high in the terraces, trailing a green flag of Saudi Arabia that bears a scimitar and ancient script from the Koran. They drew cheers from their own - even from some of us Belgium supporters - and the heat did not slow them. Nor did it slow their team.

Saudi Arabia gives haj death toll

Saudi Arabia said that 270 Muslim pilgrims were killed in this week's stampede at the annual haj near the holy city of Mecca in the kingdom, Reuter reports from Dubai. An official statement, the first on Monday's stampede, said 127 victims had so far been identified. They included Arabs, Africans, Asians and two Europeans.

Silence on Mecca death toll

The final death toll of Muslim pilgrims killed in a stampede at Mena, near Mecca in Saudi Arabia, during the haj may not be known for several days, Reuter reports from Dubai. Reports from journalists covering the pilgrimage have put Monday's total at more than 200.

Hundreds die as Muslim pilgrimage turns to tragedy: The disaster reflects badly on the Saudi authorities, writes Charles Richards, Middle East Editor

ONCE again the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca has ended in tragedy. Hundreds are known to have been killed during a stampede at the 'stoning the devil' ritual and there are fears that the toll could rise.

Iran climbdown

Iran has bowed to Saudi demands by agreeing not to stage political demonstrations during the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca, Safa Haeri writes. Tehran has shrouded its climbdown with a smokescreen of criticism of the Saudis.

Haj dispute

Iran said Saudi Arabia has deployed police, water cannon and armoured cars around its haj pilgrimage headquarters in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Reuter reports from Nicosia. The Iranians plan to rally tomorrow denouncing those they regard as Islam's enemies.

Hussein in Mecca to woo King Fahd

KING HUSSEIN of Jordan arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday on his first visit since being ostracised for not supporting King Fahd against Iraq during the Gulf war.

Iraqi plea for pilgrimage cash

Iraq has asked Arab and Muslim countries to release dollars 20m ( pounds 13.5m) of its assets to allow Iraqis to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, AFP reports from Baghdad. Iraq has been under a United Nations embargo since its troops invaded Kuwait in August 1990, but a freeze on its assets has been eased.

BOOK REVIEW / Seeing the light, West Coast style: Robert Fisk on a Californian Muslim whose account of the pilgrimage does his new faith no favours. 'The Hadj' - Michael Woolfe: Secker & Warburg, 18.99 pounds

The Hadj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, is undoubtedly the most impressive public display of religious faith anywhere in the world. Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem at Easter, the Pope's sermons at St Peter's, the solemnity of Canterbury Cathedral, cannot hope to compete with the sheer, unadulterated physical as well as mental conviction expressed by Muslims who, in temperatures up to 130, trudge and bus the miles from Mecca to Mount Arafat in the footsteps of the Prophet. 'In Western religions,' as Michael Woolfe admits, 'religious pilgrimage is a vestigial tradition, a quaint, folkloric concept commonly reduced to metaphor.' For Muslims, on the other hand, the Hadj is 'an act of obedience, a profession of belief and the visible expression of a spiritual community'.

When Christmas is a foreign country: All the icons are white, and for some children this brings confusions, writes Yasmin

Zain Sardar, a five-year-old Muslim boy, is convinced that Santa would bring him presents if only there was a chimney in his house. Last year he cried because his family did not have a Christmas tree.

Hi-tech mosque

Morocco's King Hassan II was preparing last night to inaugurate the world's most modern mosque, equipped with a laser pointing towards Mecca and a massive sliding roof to let in the sun, AFP reports from Casablanca. The Hassan II mosque, on reclaimed land jutting into the Atlantic, covers 10 hectares (25 acres) and can hold 100,000 faithful, with 20,000 inside its main prayer room, where women will be separated from men on two mezzanines.

Saudi forum

RIYADH (AP) - King Fahd has appointed 60 male citizens to a consultative council, which has no real power but offers an unprecedented forum for public debate in the kingdom.

Saudis attack rulers by tape and fax: Robert Fisk examines how a hi-tech form of underground protest is proving successful in unsettling the monarchy

DESPITE attempts by the Saudi authorities to destroy the growing Islamic reformist movement in the country, thousands of cassette tape recordings by anonymous Saudi preachers are again flooding the kingdom. All of them call for political change, an independent foreign policy and a reduction in King Fahd's powers.

On sale: Burton's unknown art

MORE than 100 drawings and watercolours by Sir Richard Burton, the Victorian explorer, scholar and diplomat, are to be sold by Christie's this month.
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