Makkah: Huge crowds of pilgrims started praying on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat early on Friday, the high point of the biggest Haj pilgrimage since the pandemic forced drastic cuts in numbers for two years in a row.
The worshippers, capped at one million including 850,000 from abroad chosen by lottery, spent the night at camps in the valley of Mina, seven kilometres from Makkah’s Grand Mosque.
In the early hours of Friday, they converged on Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) delivered his final sermon, for the most important of the Haj rituals.
After sunset, they headed to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they will sleep under the stars before performing the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ceremony on Saturday.
This year’s Haj is taking place against the backdrop of a resurgence of Covid-19 in the region, with some Gulf countries tightening restrictions to keep outbreaks in check.
All participants were required to submit proof of full vaccination and negative PCR tests. Upon reaching Mina on Thursday, they were handed small bags containing masks and sanitisers.
The Haj, usually one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings, is among the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.
In 2019, some 2.5 million Muslims from around the world took part, as in previous years.
But the coronavirus outbreak has since forced Saudi authorities to dramatically downsize the Haj. Just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom participated in 2021, up from a few thousand in 2020.