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In pictures: Pilgrims flock to Makkah for first post-pandemic Haj

Written by The Frontier Post

Monitoring Desk

RIYADH: Thousands of pilgrims started arriving in the holy city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia on Friday, among some one million Muslims expected to attend the 2022 Haj pilgrimage season after two years of major disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.

Wrapped in white robes, with some carrying umbrellas against the burning desert sun, hundreds performed the first ritual of the Haj, which involves walking in a circle around the Kaaba.

“Praise be God … It’s impossible to describe my feelings right now,” said Ahmed Sayed Mahmoud, an Egyptian pilgrim.

A Muslim pilgrim sits next to the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque on Friday. — Reuters

“Being in the Grand Mosque and in the land of the two holy mosques makes me very happy.” Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites in Makkah and Madina, allowed back foreign travellers this year to perform the Haj.

Only a few thousand Saudi citizens and residents attended the annual pilgrimage in the last two years as Covid-19 wreaked havoc across the global economy and curtailed travel.

Pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand Mosque on Friday. — Reuters

However, authorities have said only one million people can join the 2022 season, less than half of pre-pandemic levels, and access is restricted to pilgrims aged 18 to 65 who have been fully vaccinated against the virus and do not suffer from chronic diseases.

A pilgrim cries next to the Station of Ibrahim “Maqam Ibrahim”, as Saudi Arabia welcomes back pilgrims for the 2022 Haj season after Covid-19 disruption. — Reuters

Security

Security officers mixed with pilgrims inside the mosque.

A web of surveillance cameras oversaw its surroundings and checkpoints controlled access to the city to help ensure an incident-free Haj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.

Pilgrims stand next to the Station of Ibrahim “Maqam Ibrahim” on Friday. — Reuters

Over the years, the kingdom has spent billions of dollars on making one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings more secure.

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia on Friday. — Reuters

Haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, is a major source of income for the government from worshippers’ lodging, transport, fees, and gifts.

In 2019, the last year before the pandemic struck, some 2.6 million people performed the Haj, while around 19 million took part in the Umrah, another form of pilgrimage to Makkah which — unlike the Haj — can be carried out at any time of the year.

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia July 1, 2022. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

An economic reform plan of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to increase Umrah and Haj capacity to 30m pilgrims annually and to generate 50 billion riyals ($13.32bn) of revenues by 2030.

Header image: Pilgrims circle the Holy Kaaba and pray at the Grand Mosque as Saudi Arabia welcomes back pilgrims for the 2022 Haj season, after the kingdom barred foreign travellers over the last two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia on Friday. — Reuters

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