Bittersweet emotions as Saudi welcomes one million for biggest hajj pilgrimage since pandemic - see pics

Updated: Jul 07, 2022, 03:50 AM(IST)

One million people, including 850,000 from abroad, are allowed at this year's hajj after two years of drastically curtailed numbers due to the pandemic

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Hajj pilgrimage 2022

Hundreds of thousands of mostly maskless worshippers circled Islam's holiest site in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday (July 6), on the first day of the biggest hajj pilgrimage since the Covid-19 pandemic began. 

(Photograph:AFP)

Fully vaccinated worshippers

One million fully vaccinated Muslims, including 850,000 from abroad, are allowed at this year's hajj in the city of Mecca, a big rise after two years of drastically curtailed numbers due to policies to stop the spread of infection. 

At Mecca's Grand Mosque, pilgrims performed 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. 

Authorities said last month that masks would be required at the site, but that has been largely ignored so far.

(Photograph:AFP)

Hot weather

Many pilgrims held umbrellas to block the hot sun as the temperature climbed to 42 degrees Celsius. 

The Saudi health ministry has prepared 23 hospitals and 147 health centres in Mecca and Medina, the second-holiest city in Islam, to accommodate pilgrims, state media reported this week. 

That includes allocating more than 1,000 beds for patients requiring intensive care and more than 200 specifically for heatstroke patients, while dispatching more than 25,000 health workers to respond to cases as they arise.

(Photograph:AFP)

Security challenge

The hajj poses a considerable security challenge and has seen several disasters over the years, including a 2015 stampede that killed up to 2,300 people. 

(Photograph:AFP)

Five days of rituals

This year's hajj is larger than the pared-down versions staged in 2020 and 2021 but still smaller than in normal times.  

The pilgrimage consists of a series of religious rites which are completed over five days in Islam's holiest city and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia. 

After this, the pilgrims will move to Mina, around five kilometres away from the Grand Mosque, ahead of the main rite at Mount Arafat, where it is believed the Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon. 

(Photograph:AFP)

Matter of prestige

Hosting the hajj is a matter of prestige and a powerful source of political legitimacy for Saudi Arabia's rulers. 

Costing at least $5,000 per person, the hajj is also a money-spinner for the world's biggest oil exporter, which is trying to diversify its economy. 

In normal years, the pilgrimage brings in billions of dollars. 

(Photograph:AFP)

Saudi Arabia's social transformation

These days it represents a chance to showcase the kingdom's ongoing social transformation, despite persistent complaints about human rights abuses and limits on personal freedoms. 

Saudi Arabia now allows women to attend the hajj unaccompanied by male relatives, a requirement that was dropped last year. 

(Photograph:AFP)

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