A million Muslim pilgrims gathered in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca on Wednesday for the largest hajj since the coronavirus pandemic severely restricted access to one of the five pillars of Islam.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to allow around 850,000 Muslims from abroad to take part in the annual pilgrimage, which begins Thursday, marks a big step towards normalcy after two years of a drastically reduced hajj that was limited to Saudi residents.
Masks, Robots, Bracelets: How COVID-19 Has Changed Hajj for Muslim Pilgrims
The 1 million pilgrims from home and abroad who took part are still far fewer than the 2.5 million Muslims who traveled in 2019 for the pilgrimage, which is typically one of the largest gatherings in the world. Those performing the ritual this year must be under the age of 65, have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of travel. The pilgrims are selected from millions of applicants via an online lottery system.
Saudi officials inspected the holy site on Wednesday and stressed their “readiness” to receive pilgrims with the goal of “preserving public health.”
Muslim pilgrims perform the “Stoning of the Devil” ritual during the annual Hajj
After the outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020, Saudi authorities only allowed 1,000 pilgrims already living in the kingdom to attend, leading historians to liken the disruption to the site’s storming by religious extremists and dramatic closure in 1979.
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Last year, the Hajj was similarly limited to 60,000 fully vaccinated Muslims living in Saudi Arabia. The unprecedented curbs sent shockwaves through the Muslim world, devastating many believers who had saved for years for the religious rite.
Saudi Arabia says ‘very limited’ Hajj to be held due to coronavirus
This year, however, Saudi authorities are keen to ease virus restrictions. Religious pilgrimages brought in $12 billion before the pandemic — the largest percentage of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product after oil.
Despite virus cases in Saudi Arabia steadily rising to more than 500 a day, last month the government lifted the country’s mandate for indoor masks and other virus precautions. About 70% of the country is vaccinated against the virus.
The Qur’an says that all followers of Islam who are physically and financially able should undertake pilgrimage once in their lifetime. Pilgrims from around the world travel to Mecca for five intense days of worship and perform a series of rituals.
Following a route trodden by Prophet Muhammad almost 1,400 years ago, the Hajj is said to follow in the footsteps of Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are called in the Bible.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
https://globalnews.ca/news/8969986/hajj-2022-saudi-arabia/ 1 million Muslims for Hajj as Saudi Arabia eases COVID-19 restrictions – National