Hajj pilgrims streamed out of the holy city of Mecca and into the Mina valley on Sunday, launching the rituals of the great pilgrimage which Saudi Arabia is holding in a scaled-down form for a second year.
Only 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom are allowed to take part, far from the vast crowds that descend on Mecca in normal times when the ritual drew up to 2.5 million pilgrims.
Since Saturday, groups of pilgrims have been performing the “tawaf” at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, circling the Kaaba, a large cubic structure draped in golden-embroidered black cloth towards which Muslims around the world pray.
After that, they have been making their way to Mina, where they will spend the night. Mina sits in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains, some five kilometres (three miles) from the Grand Mosque, and is transformed each year into a vast encampment for pilgrims.
Pilgrims were brought there Sunday on buses which were only half-filled to respect social distancing rules, and authorities provided 3,000 electric cars to transport the elderly and those with limited mobility.
“We have applied social distancing inside the camps where there are four pilgrims in each room. We have put barriers between each bed to apply social distancing,” tour operator Hadi Fouad told AFP.
“For the common areas at the camp, like the prayer area and the cafeteria, we have assigned a security company whose guards are spread throughout the camp to make sure there is no crowding.”
In the high point of the Hajj, worshippers will climb Mount Arafat today (July 19).
Also known as the “Mount of Mercy”, it is the site where it is believed that the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon. Worshippers will undertake hours of prayers and Quranic recitals there.
After descending the following day, they will gather pebbles and perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.
The Hajj, usually one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings, is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.
This year’s pilgrimage is larger than the pared-down version staged in 2020 but is drastically smaller than in normal times, creating resentment among Muslims abroad who are barred once again.
Participants were chosen from more than 558,000 applicants through an online vetting system, with the event confined to fully vaccinated adults aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses._Al JazeeraShare this post: