On Sunday, the beginning of the largest hajj pilgrimage in recent memory took place in the scorching heat of the Saudi summer. Vast groups of robed pilgrims made solemn loops around the Kaaba, the black cube located within Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
During the yearly festivities that might set new attendance records, the holiest place in Islam is anticipated to play home to more than two million worshipers from 160 different nations. As of Friday evening, 1.6 million foreigners had already gathered at the shrine.
The hajj started early on Sunday morning with the “tawaf,” which is the circumambulation of the Kaaba. The Kaaba is a vast cubic building that is wrapped in black linen and has gold embellishments. Every day, millions of Muslims pray toward the Kaaba.
“I am living the most beautiful days of my life,” remarked Abdel-Azim, an Egyptian man of 65 years old when he completed the rite.
“The dream has come true,” said the retiree, who had saved up for the participation fee of $6,000 to take part in the activity for twenty years.
One of the five pillars of Islam is the pilgrimage known as the hajj, which must be performed at least once in a person’s lifetime if they have the financial means to do so.
A number of rituals are carried out in Mecca and the surrounding area in the western region of oil-rich Saudi Arabia over the course of four days.
Pilgrims will begin making their way to Mina on Sunday night, which is located around five kilometers (three miles) from the Grand Mosque. This is in preparation for the hajj’s culmination at Mount Arafat, which is believed to be the location where the Prophet Mohammed delivered his last speech.
– “Great blessing” – Aside from the Grand Mosque, hundreds of worshippers worshipped on colorful carpets that decorated the street, with male pilgrims wearing a straightforward white robe. The region was swarmed by emergency response vehicles, including fire trucks, ambulances, and mobile clinics.
The hajj presents a significant challenge to safety and has been beset by a number of mishaps over the years, including a stampede in 2015 that may have resulted in the deaths of up to 2,300 people.
Since then, there have been no serious occurrences, and the possibility of a tragedy was the very last thing on the minds of the pilgrims.
“I cannot describe my feelings,” stated Yusuf Burhan, an Indonesian student of 25 years old.
“This is a wonderful opportunity. I never in a million years would have guessed that I would be doing the hajj this year.
As the hajj is performed primarily outside, the scheduling of this year’s pilgrimage, which is determined by the lunar calendar, will put participants to the ultimate test of their endurance.
Police officers in the hilly city have been conducting foot patrols and setting up checkpoints to scrutinize hajj permits while shielding themselves from the hot heat with white umbrellas that they carry with them.
As the temperature approached 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit), others sprayed water on the pilgrims.
A large number of emergency medical personnel were on standby inside the Grand Mosque. The Saudi authorities have stated that there would be more than 32,000 medical professionals available to assist in preventing heatstroke, dehydration, and fatigue.
‘Not a single unoccupied bed’ The hajj, with its expensive expenses, produces billions of dollars each year for the world’s largest oil exporter, which is striving to diversify its economy beyond fossil fuels.
Since 2019, when over 2.5 million individuals participated, this year’s will be the largest since then. During the height of the coronavirus epidemic in 2020, just 10,000 were permitted, but that number increased to roughly 59,000 the following year. The one million limit that was in place the previous year has been eliminated.
The Saudi entrepreneur Samir Al-Zafni stated that all of his hotels in Mecca and Madinah are booked solid until the first week of July.
“This year there is not a single vacant bed in our group of 67 hotels,” he said while speaking to AFP from his office. “We are completely booked up.”
In this extremely conservative nation, performing the hajj is a demonstration of societal progress. Since Saudi Arabia abolished its prohibitions in 2021 prohibiting women who were not accompanied by a male relative, this year’s pilgrimage is expected to be the largest since the rule change.
When Ramot Ali from Niger left the Grand Mosque on Friday evening after the evening prayers, he found it difficult to adequately explain the experience of doing hajj for the first time.
“I am overjoyed,” was the statement that she made.