More than 1.5 million foreign Muslims arrive in Mecca for annual Hajj pilgrimage

Kathmandu: Muslim pilgrims have been streaming into Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca ahead of the start of the Hajj later this week, as the annual pilgrimage returns to its monumental scale. Saudi officials say more than 1.5 million foreign pilgrims have arrived in the country by Tuesday, the vast majority by air, from across the world.

More are expected, and hundreds of thousands of Saudis and others living in Saudi Arabia will also join them when the pilgrimage officially begins on Friday.Saudi officials have said they expect the number of pilgrims this year to exceed 2023, when more than 1.8 million people performed Hajj, approaching pre-pandemic levels.

In 2019, more than 2.4 million Muslims made the pilgrimage. Saudi authorities control the flow of pilgrims through quotas, allowing each country one pilgrim for every thousand Muslim citizens.

The pilgrims included 4,200 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank who arrived in Mecca earlier this month, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were not able to travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj this year, because of the 8-month war between Israel and Hamas.

On Tuesday, pilgrims thronged the Grand Mosque in Mecca, performing a ritual circuit walking seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure inside the mosque that is considered Islam’s holiest site.

They wore ihrams, two unstitched sheets of white cloth that resemble a shroud.Many were seen carrying umbrellas against the sun, in temperatures reaching 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit) during the day on Tuesday.

All Muslims are required to undertake it at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so.Those in the Hajj view the pilgrimage as an opportunity to strengthen their faith, wipe out old sins and start new.

Source: AP