‘Largest hajj pilgrimage in history’ begins in Saudi Arabia

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By Webdesk

The number of pilgrims this year is expected to break records at over 2.5 million.

The Hajj pilgrimage has begun as crowds of white-robed Muslims circle the Ka’aba, the cubic edifice at the epicenter of Islam’s holiest site, their prayers echoing through the air.

The annual pilgrimage began Sunday in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, with the tawaf, the circling of the Kaaba, in an event expected to break attendance records.

“This year we will witness the largest Hajj pilgrimage in history,” said an official from the Saudi Hajj and Umrah ministry.

INTERACTIVE_WHEN_IS_EID_ALAZHA_AND_HAJJ_2023_7_the journey step by step-1687150947

More than 2.5 million Muslims are expected to participate as restrictions for the coronavirus pandemic that have been in place since 2020 have been completely relaxed.

That year only 10,000 people were allowed to participate; 59,000 by 2021; and last year there was a limit of one million people.

“I’m living the happiest days of my life,” Abdelazim, a 65-year-old Egyptian who saved for 20 years to pay the $6,000 expenses he needed to attend, told AFP news agency at the venue.

On Sunday evening, the pilgrims will begin to make their way to Mina, about 8km (5 miles) from Mecca’s al-Masjid al-Haram, or Grand Mosque, before gathering at Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have had his last sermon.

Mina is prepared for the pilgrims, food supplies are brought in and security forces are deployed.INTERACTIVE_WHEN_IS_EID_ALAZHA_AND_HAJJ_2023_7_map-1687150924

This year’s hajj is challenging and takes place in the heat of almost 45 degrees Celsius, the date for the pilgrimage depends on the lunar calendar.

Saudi authorities said more than 32,000 health workers and thousands of ambulances are on standby to treat cases of heatstroke, dehydration and exhaustion.

The Islamic ritual is obligatory for any able-bodied Muslim adult who has the financial means to participate, and forms one of the five pillars of the religion.

The physically and emotionally challenging experience is designed to cleanse followers of sin and bring them closer to God.

This year, Hajj will be held between June 26 and July 1, with the celebration of Eid al-Adha on June 28.

Although an expensive ritual, the journey of Hajj often inspires hope for many, even if they come from parts of the world besieged by war, poverty or occupation. Many save for years what little money they have to pay for it.

Four groups of pilgrims left Gaza last week. Meanwhile, pilgrims from northwestern Syria poured through the border crossings into Turkey. And Yemenis boarded the first direct flight to Saudi Arabia since 2016 for the pilgrimage.

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