For this rite, many worshipers make the journey on foot to Mina, seven kilometers from the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam located in western Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, they performed in the Grand Mosque the rite of “tawaf”, or the circumambulation around the Kaaba, a black cubic structure to which Muslims around the world turn for prayer.

Covid obliges, the crowd of pilgrims was limited this year to a million faithful, more than half as much as in 2019. It is however much more than the last two years, when the participants had been reduced to a few dozen thousands, foreigners having been excluded.

Some 850,000 Muslims from around the world have been authorized this year, provided they are vaccinated and present a negative PCR test. The most important hajj since 2019 takes place in a context of epidemic resumption in several Gulf countries, which have recently put in place barrier measures.

Four hospitals and 26 health centers have been set up in Mina, according to authorities.

While not all pilgrims are wearing anti-Covid masks, many are holding umbrellas in their hands to protect themselves from the sun as temperatures hit 42 degrees on Wednesday.

Dressed in light robes, devotees are expected to spend the night in air-conditioned white tents at Mina, as the venue is located in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains.

Friday, the culmination of the hajj, the faithful will begin the ascent of Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his last sermon. Pilgrims must pray and recite the Quran for several hours on Mt.

On Saturday, they must carry out the symbolic stoning of Satan, by throwing stones at places symbolizing the devil.

– High security –

The hajj, usually one of the largest annual religious gatherings in the world, is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken at least once in a lifetime by every Muslim who can afford it.

The rituals take place under tight security with police checkpoints at various locations in Mecca, to avoid a repeat of the tragedies that have marred the history of the greatest Muslim pilgrimage.

In 1979, gunmen barricaded themselves inside the Grand Mosque during an assault that left 153 people dead, according to the official toll. In 2015, a stampede in Mina killed up to 2,300 people.

But the crowds of foreign pilgrims also represent an economic boon for the Gulf monarchy, which depends mainly on the export of crude oil.

With the return of hundreds of thousands of worshipers, Makkah’s hotel sectors and traders specializing in religious tourism hope to recover from the huge losses generated in the previous two years due to the pandemic.

Since the start of the health crisis, Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 795,000 cases of coronavirus contamination, including around 9,000 deaths. Some 67 million doses of vaccine have been administered in this wealthy country of around 34 million people.