Mecca – Thousands of maskless worshippers gathered to circle Islam’s holiest site in Saudi Arabia’s Mecca on Wednesday, kick-starting the biggest hajj pilgrimage since the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a once-in-a-lifetime duty for all able-bodied Muslims to perform if they can afford it.
About one million people are expected to be in attendance in the holy city of Mecca in Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) for the start of the ritual, Al Jazeera reported.
“We are very excited and happy to be here … It’s a great feeling to do something that is a core religious duty,” Hammad Tahir, a pilgrim said a day before performing the Hajj, Al Jazeera cited. Saudi Arabia eased several Covid-19 restrictions last month, including mask mandates.
In April this year, Saudi Arabia allowed one million visitors for the Hajj pilgrimage.
Muslims from inside and outside the country will be able to perform the Hajj provided they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and no older than 65, the Kingdom has said, as reported by Al Jazeera.
Last year only a few thousand domestic pilgrims were allowed to perform the Hajj due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah had said that pilgrims from abroad must also present a negative Covid-19 PCR test and that there will be additional health precautions.
At Mecca’s Grand Mosque, pilgrims will perform the “tawaf”, the circumambulation of the Kaaba, the large cubic structure draped in golden-embroidered black cloth that Muslims around the world turn towards to pray.
Before the Covid-19 virus emerged, about 2.5 million people travelled every year to Saudi Arabia for Hajj.