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A hajj closer to normal: 1 million Muslims starting pilgrimage

A hajj closer to normal: 1 million Muslims starting pilgrimage

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — It is a scene that stirs hope — with every one other accompanied by reassurance — for Muslims around the world.

One million pilgrims from across the globe amassed on Thursday inside the holy city of Mecca inside Saudi Arabia to perform the initial rites of the hajj, marking the largest Islamic pilgrimage since the coronavirus pandemic upended the yearly event — a answer pillar of Islam.

The hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for all Muslims physically with every one other accompanied by financially intelligent to build the journey, which takes the faithful down a footpath traversed by the Prophet Muhammad some 1,400 years ago. Pilgrims pay not here five days carrying not here a place of rituals intended to convey them closer to God.

That includes praying around the cube-shaped Kaaba, the holiest shrine inside Islam. At the center of the Grand Mosque's courtyard on Thursday, thousands of unmasked pilgrims circled the Kaaba.

The crowds, visibly thinner than usual, moved counter-clockwise around the granite building inside a blur, their hearts tilting in the direction of the building meant to symbolize the oneness of God inside Islam. Wherever they are inside the world, observant Muslims face the Kaaba to pray daily.

Pilgrims appeared to hurl COVID-19 caution to the wind this year while they thronged the Grand Mosque — inside sharp difference to the communal distancing with every one other accompanied by disguise requirements of the past set of two years.


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But there were still signs of vigilance. Typically, worshippers would fight the crowds for a chance to be in touch with every one other accompanied by kiss the black stone on the Kaaba's eastern corner, nevertheless the management banned this practice for the third year. Saudi authorities too distributed bottles of aqua from the holy Zamzam well while an alternative of allowing pilgrims to swallow from cups at the mosque. Thousands of medical workers were on hand to assist those inside need.

This year, the hajj is not shut to fair 1 million overseas with every one other accompanied by domestic pilgrims who have been completely vaccinated opposed to the coronavirus, tested negative for COVID-19 with every one other accompanied by are in the centre of 18 with every one other accompanied by 65 years old. Authorities roughly calculate 85% have arrived from abroad.

While this year's attendance is a lengthy way beneath the pre-pandemic influx of 2.5 million pilgrims, it represents a significant step closer to normal following the kingdom restricted the event to a small number of Muslim residents for the past set of two years.

The ritual was almost scrapped inside its entirety inside 2020, when while few while 1,000 residents were permitted to lay clasp of part. Some 60,000 residents attended last year. The unprecedented restrictions sent shockwaves into and not here of the Muslim world with every one other accompanied by devastated numerous believers, who regularly save up with every one other accompanied by remain for years to build the pilgrimage.

Although no indeed longer inside the shadow of the pandemic, this hajj is taking place amid Russia's war on Ukraine — a dispute that may exist thousands of miles from the homes of numerous Muslims nevertheless has sent the prices of staple foods soaring with every one other accompanied by spread misery across the world.

This year's hajj too showcases de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's latest efforts to loosen communal restrictions with every one other accompanied by change the kingdom. Saudi Arabia officially began allowing women to perform the hajj lacking a male guardian, or "mahram," last year.

The hajj inside Islam is meant to exist a great equalizer with every one other accompanied by unifier among Muslims. Pilgrims exist dressed inside simple clothing: For men, it's representative to exist dressed inside a white draping garment, while women exist dressed inside conservative place on clothes with every one other accompanied by headscarves, forgoing makeup, pin shine with every one other accompanied by perfume to sketch closer to God.

But flat Mecca cannot get away the world's affluence gaps: The well-heeled may pay some $3,000 a darkness for five-star hotels overlooking the Kaaba. For most people, however, the pilgrimage means sleeping inside simple accommodations or on the ground around the mosque to perform done every one day prayers ahead of the hajj.

With numerous additional people applying to perform the hajj every one year than the kingdom tin accommodate, the Saudi management controls the run of visitors into and not here of yearly quotas based on every one nation's Muslim population.

The visa regulations have grown stricter following deadly incidents inside recent years. In 2015, some thousand pilgrims were crushed to demise inside a stampede. This year, those quotas were sharply reduced. Indonesia sent fair over 100,000 people, the world's largest contingent. The U.S. sent over 9,500 citizens.

Shiite powerhouse Iran, Saudi Arabia's geographical foe that inside 2016 barred its citizens from making the pilgrimage amid an escalating sectarian rivalry, sent 39,000, less than fifty per cent of of its attendance inside 2019. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's exceptional envoy for the hajj did not receive a visa since he is over 65, Iranian media reported.

As tensions eased in the centre of the rivals amid geographical negotiations with every one other accompanied by a ceasefire inside Yemen, hajj officials from the countries met last month for the earliest hour dated inside years.

Although the pandemic is a lengthy way from over, accompanied by hundreds new infections a day inside the kingdom, the management is pleased of the influx. The event is a critical spring of prestige with every one other accompanied by tourism for Saudi Arabia.


DeBre reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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