A hajj closer to normal: 1 million Muslims begin pilgrimage
It is a scene that stirs hope — and relief — for Muslims around the world.
One million pilgrims from across the globe amassed on Thursday in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform the initial rites of the hajj, marking the largest Islamic pilgrimage since the coronavirus pandemic upended the annual event — a key pillar of Islam.
The hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for all Muslims physically and financially able to make the journey, which takes the faithful along a path traversed by the Prophet Muhammad some 1,400 years ago. Pilgrims spend five days carrying out a set of rituals intended to bring them closer to God.
That includes praying around the cube-shaped Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam.
The crowds, visibly thinner than usual, moved counter-clockwise around the granite building in a blur, their hearts tilting toward the structure meant to symbolize the oneness of God in Islam. Wherever they are in the world, observant Muslims face the Kaaba to pray daily.
Pilgrims appeared to throw COVID-19 caution to the wind this year as they thronged the Grand Mosque — in sharp contrast to the social distancing and mask requirements of the past two years.