Pilgrims gathered to pray the dawn and perform the initial rites of the Hajj on Thursday in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca, in the largest Muslim pilgrimage since the coronavirus pandemic end the event – one of the five pillars of Islam.
This year’s hajj is larger than the abridged editions held in 2020 and 2021, but still smaller than the editions held before the pandemic.
In 2019, about 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world participated in this annual event.
Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for all Muslims who are physically and financially able to make the journey.
Pilgrims spend several days performing a series of rituals aimed at bringing them closer to God, following the path that the Prophet Muhammad took about 1,400 years ago.
That includes praying around the cube-shaped Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam.
In the heart of the Grand Mosque’s wide open courtyard on Wednesday, thousands of pilgrims without masks circled the Kaaba.
They move counter-clockwise seven times around the granite building, which is used to symbolize the oneness of God in Islam.
This year’s hajj is limited to vaccinated Muslims under the age of 65 selected from millions of applicants, mainly through an online lottery system.
People arriving from outside Saudi Arabia are required to submit a negative COVID-19 PCR result from a test performed within 72 hours of travel.
Since the start of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 795,000 cases of coronavirus, more than 9,000 deaths.