UTV

Millions of pilgrims throng Mecca for biggest Hajj in years

Millions of Muslim worshipers from across the world have congregated in the holy city of Mecca to prepare for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, with official figures expected to set a new record in the first year after the full elimination of pandemic restrictions.

Islam’s holiest city hosted huge crowds of worshipers in white robes and sandals on Friday, with Saudi authorities describing this year’s event as the “biggest” Hajj pilgrimage in years as more than two million people from more than 160 countries were said to have attended the annual religious gathering.

The figure showed a dramatic increase on the 926,000 from last year when numbers were capped at one million post-pandemic.

In 2019, about 2.5 million people took part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Only 10,000 were allowed in 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, rising to nearly 59,000 a year later.

Saudi officials stressed that this year’s hajj could break attendance records, with Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah saying in a video published this week that, “As the hajj draws near, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia prepares… for the largest Islamic gathering in history.”

The expectation comes as the requirement for women to be accompanied by male guardians was dropped by Saudi authorities in 2021.

This year, the maximum age limit has also been scrapped, meaning thousands of elderly will be among those braving Saudi Arabia’s scorching heat that is projected to reach 44 degrees Celsius.

Pilgrims have to follow a sequence of rites and rituals during the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage can be physically demanding as pilgrims have to move between different locations and can walk between 5km-15km per day on average. The pilgrimage tests the pilgrims’ patience and temperament and is a challenge on a spiritual, emotional, and physical level. The pilgrimage may require some preparation and for many, it is a once-in-a-lifetime event. 

The Hajj rituals will begin late Sunday at the Grand Mosque of Mecca. The worshipers will sleep in tents in Mina on Monday night and spend Tuesday at Mount Arafat, where Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) delivered his final sermon.

After casting pebbles in the “stoning of the devil” ritual on Wednesday, marking the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday, pilgrims return to Mecca to perform a farewell “tawaf” — circling seven times around the Holy Kaaba, a cube-shaped shrine that Muslims face it when they pray. 

Hajj pilgrimage is one of the pillars of Islam that Muslims who enjoy financial self-sufficiency are religiously obliged to perform at least once in a lifetime.

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