The annual Hajj pilgrimage has commenced as crowds of Muslims dressed in white robes encircle the Kaaba, the central cubic structure at Islam’s most sacred site, with their prayers reverberating through the air.The pilgrimage began on Sunday in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, with the tawaf, the circumambulation of the Kaaba, and is expected to break attendance records. An official at the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah stated, “This year, we will witness the largest Hajj pilgrimage in history.”
More than 2.5 million Muslims are anticipated to participate as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, which have been in place since 2020, have been completely lifted.
In 2020, only 10,000 individuals were allowed to participate, followed by 59,000 in 2021, and last year there was a cap of one million people.
Abdelazim, a 65-year-old Egyptian who saved for 20 years to afford the $6,000 cost to attend, expressed his joy, stating, “I am living the most beautiful days of my life,” in an interview with AFP at the site.
On Sunday evening, the pilgrims will proceed to Mina, located approximately 8 km (5 miles) from Mecca’s al-Masjid al-Haram, or the Grand Mosque, before gathering at Mount Arafat, where it is believed that Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon.
Mina has been prepared to accommodate the pilgrims, with food supplies and security forces deployed. This year’s Hajj poses challenges as it takes place in the intense heat, with temperatures reaching nearly 45 degrees Celsius, and the dates for the pilgrimage are dependent on the lunar calendar.
Saudi authorities have ensured the presence of over 32,000 healthcare workers and thousands of ambulances on standby to provide medical assistance for cases of heatstroke, dehydration, and exhaustion.
The Hajj ritual is mandatory for every financially capable adult Muslim and represents one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a physically and emotionally demanding experience intended to purify followers of their sins and bring them closer to God.
This year, Hajj is observed from June 26 to July 1, with the celebration of Eid al-Adha taking place on June 28.
Despite being an expensive undertaking, the journey of Hajj often instills hope, even for individuals hailing from war-torn, impoverished, or occupied regions of the world. Many save diligently for years to afford the pilgrimage.
Last week, four groups of pilgrims departed from Gaza, while pilgrims from northwestern Syria crossed the border into Turkey. Additionally, Yemenis boarded the first direct flight to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage since 2016.