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Over Two Million Pilgrims Gather for First Official Journey Amidst Corona Virus Outbreak

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More than two million Muslim pilgrims officially began their annual hajj on Monday, heading for Mecca after circumambulating the Kaaba in Islam’s holiest site, and gathering in a vast encampment in the nearby desert for a day and night of prayer.

One of the world’s largest religious gatherings returned to full capacity this year for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic three years ago.

The Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to perform the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so.

For pilgrims, it is a deeply moving spiritual experience that exonerates sins, brings them closer to God, and unites the world’s more than 1.8 billion Muslims. Some spend years saving money and waiting for permission to embark on the journey.

The rituals of the pilgrimage largely perpetuate the Qur’an’s accounts of Abraham, his son Ishmael, and Ishmael’s mother Hagar.

Pilgrims have been performing the rituals of the Kaaba since their arrival in Mecca in recent days. As performed by the last of them on Monday, the pilgrims made their way on foot or by bus to Mina, where they will stay in one of the largest tent cities in the world. They will pray all day and night before traveling on Tuesday to Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his last sermon.

Mina is wide and open, with little respite from the desert heat and scorching sun. The soldiers sprayed water on the pilgrims to cool them.

Egyptian businessman Yahya Al-Ghannam said he was at a loss for words to describe his feelings upon his arrival in Mina.

He said, “Tears are welling up in my eyes with joy and happiness… I don’t sleep. I haven’t slept for 15 days, but only one hour a day,” overwhelmed by the overwhelming feelings that surrounded the pilgrimage.

After Arafat, pilgrims collect pebbles from a site known as Muzdalifah to use in throwing the symbolic pebbles representing Satan at Mina.

The last three days of the Hajj coincide with the Eid al-Adha holiday, when Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.

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