Following two years of significant disruption brought on by the COVID outbreak, thousands of pilgrims began arriving in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia on Friday. One million Muslims are anticipated to attend the 2022 haj pilgrimage season.
Hundreds of people completed the first rite of the haj, which entails walking in a circuit around the Kaaba, the hallowed edifice at the center of Mecca’s Grand Mosque, while some carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching desert heat.
“Gratitude to God I can’t even begin to put into words how I feel right now “said Egyptian pilgrim Ahmed Sayed Mahmoud. I’m really delighted to be at the Grand Mosque and on the grounds of the two holiest mosques.
This year, Saudi Arabia, which is home to the holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina, welcomed back international pilgrims to complete the haj. In the previous two years, the yearly pilgrimage was only attended by a small number of Saudi nationals and residents due to COVID-19’s devastating effects on the world economy and travel restrictions.
However, according to the authorities, only one million people—less than half of pre-pandemic levels—can participate in the 2022 season, and access is only permitted for pilgrims between the ages of 18 and 65 who have received a complete course of immunization against the virus and do not have any chronic illnesses.
Inside the mosque, security personnel interacted with the faithful. To help assure a trouble-free haj, which has been plagued in the past by fatal stampedes, fires, and rioting, checkpoints restricted entrance to the city and a network of security cameras monitored its surrounds.
The monarchy has poured billions of dollars into securing one of the largest religious gatherings on earth throughout the years. Every able-bodied Muslim who has the financial means must perform the Haj at least once in their lifetime, and the government receives significant funding from the housing, transportation, fees, and gifts given by pilgrims.
Around 2.6 million individuals made the haj in 2019, the final year before the epidemic, while about 19 million participated in the umrah, another type of pilgrimage to Mecca that, unlike the haj, may be made at any time of the year.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic reform plan intends to expand the number of umrah and haj pilgrims to 30 million each year and to produce 50 billion riyals ($13.32 billion) in income by 2030.