Pilgrims scale Mount Arafat for climax of biggest COVID-era hajj

Pilgrims scale Mount Arafat for climax of biggest COVID-era hajj

Pilgrims scale Mount Arafat for climax of biggest COVID-era hajj

Huge crowds of Muslim pilgrims prayed on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat on July 8, the high point of the biggest hajj pilgrimage since the pandemic forced drastic cuts in numbers for two years in a row.

The worshippers, capped at 1 million including 850,000 from abroad chosen by lottery, spent the night at camps in the valley of Mina, seven kilometers from Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site.

In the early hours of July 8, they converged on Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have delivered his final sermon, for the most important of the hajj rituals.

They stayed all day at the site, praying and reciting the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

After sunset they headed to Muzdalifah, half-way between Arafat and Mina, where they were to sleep under the stars before performing the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ceremony on July 9.

This year’s hajj 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 July 7, they were handed small bags containing masks and sanitizer.

The hajj, 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 hajj. Just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom participated in 2021, up from a few thousand in 2020.

The pilgrimage can be physically draining even in ideal conditions, but worshippers this year have faced an added challenge: Scorching sun and temperatures rising to 42 degrees Celsius.