MAKKAH: The annual five-day-long hajj rituals have commenced in Saudi Arabia with only a few thousand people gathered there.
Pilgrims began arriving in Makkah on Saturday morning. The rituals will begin today (Sunday) with the arrival of pilgrims in Mina.
Only 60,000 vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents between the ages of 18 and 65 were allowed to register for the annual pilgrimage. The year before, up to 10,000 Saudi citizens and residents were permitted to perform the Hajj.
A fleet of 2,500 buses are being used to make 26,000 trips between the kingdom’s holy sites, officials said. To ensure social distancing, the tawaf circle in the Grand Mosque will have 25 lanes, each 1.5 metres apart.
The ground level can accommodate up to 4,770 worshippers at once, with space for 1,000 more on the second level, and 3,000 on the third.
After the tawaf al qudum – the custom of circling the Kaaba that all pilgrims travelling to Makkah from outside its borders must perform – the pilgrims will leave the Grand Mosque and head by bus to their allotted accommodation in Mina.
Groups of pilgrims will be colour-coded, either red, black, green or yellow, and each group has designated buses and separate accommodation.
Despite the restriction on the number of pilgrims, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said more than 450,000 people in the kingdom sent an application within 24 hours of the registration platform opening last month. Priority was given to people who have not performed Hajj in the past five years, and those over the age of 50 who have not previously been on Hajj.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a once-in-a-lifetime duty for all able-bodied Muslims to perform if they can afford it.
With pilgrims coming from across the globe all dressed in simple cloth, the Hajj strengthens the bonds of brotherhood among Muslims and removes markers of class, wealth and materialism. Muslims perform the Hajj with the aim of cleansing their souls and reviving their relationship with God.
In the years before the pandemic, about 2.5 million pilgrims from across the world flocked to Islam’s holiest site to attend the Hajj.