Muslims go to Mecca for first pilgrimage after the arrival of the pandemic | World

Thousands of pilgrims began arriving in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Friday, among about a million Muslims expected to participate in the 2022 hajj pilgrimage season, after two years of disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.

Wrapped in white robes, some carrying umbrellas against the scorching desert sun, hundreds performed the first ritual of the hajj, which involves walking in a circle around the Kaaba, the sacred building at the center of Mecca’s Great Mosque.

“Praise be to God… It’s impossible to describe my feelings right now,” said Ahmed Sayed Mahmoud, an Egyptian pilgrim. “Being in the Grand Mosque and in the land of the two holy mosques makes me very happy.”

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, on July 1 (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, allowed foreign travelers to return this year to perform the hajj. Only a few thousand Saudi citizens and residents have participated in the annual pilgrimage over the past two years as Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the global economy and reduced travel.

A Muslim pilgrim cries next to Ibrahim Station in the holy city of Mecca (Photo: Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

However, the authorities said that only 1 million people can join the 2022 seasonless than half of pre-pandemic levels, and access is restricted to pilgrims aged 18 to 65 who have been fully vaccinated against the virus and do not suffer from chronic illness.

Security agents mingle with pilgrims inside the mosque. A network of surveillance cameras oversees its surroundings and checkpoints control access to the city to help ensure an incident-free hajj after being marred in the past by riots and fires.

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