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Mecca hosts biggest pilgrimage since pandemic

After two years of great pilgrimage in reduced format because of Covid-19, a million vaccinated Muslims are authorized this year to perform the hajj, which starts Wednesday in Mecca with the “tawaf”, the convolutions around the Kaaba.

The largest Muslim hajj pilgrimage since the Covid-19 pandemic begins Wednesday, July 6, with hundreds of thousands of worshipers, often without masks, around Islam’s holiest site in Mecca in the west. of Saudi Arabia.

One million vaccinated Muslims, including 850,000 from abroad, are allowed to perform the hajj this year, after two years of drastically limiting participants due to the pandemic.

At the Grand Mosque in Mecca, pilgrims must perform the “tawaf”, or convolutions around the Kaaba, a large cubic structure draped in black cloth embroidered with gold, to which Muslims around the world turn to pray.

Many chose to perform the first ritual ahead of the official date, some waving their country’s name and flag, like a group of pilgrims sporting “Hajj 2020 – Chad” on the back of their white robes.

Tuesday afternoon, men draped in white and women in dresses of all colors marched around the Kaaba, the majority without masks, yet compulsory at the Grand Mosque.

Vaccine and PCR

The hajj, whose participants are chosen by lot from millions of candidates, welcomes a larger number of pilgrims than in 2020 and 2021, but still far below compared to before the pandemic.

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As of 2019, some 2.5 million Muslims around the world have taken part in this ritual, one of the five pillars of Islam for any able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. Only 60,000 vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom had been authorized in 2021, slightly more than the tens of thousands of participants in 2020, at the height of the health crisis.

The pilgrimage consists of a series of religious rites performed over five days in and around Islam’s holiest city in western Saudi Arabia. Pilgrims will travel to Mina, about three miles from the Grand Mosque, on Thursday before the main rite at Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his last sermon.

Because of the coronavirus, the large gathering is reserved for vaccinated Muslims under the age of 65, with those coming from outside having to present a negative PCR test carried out within 72 hours before the trip. Since the start of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 795,000 cases of Covid-19, including around 9,000 deaths.

The Saudi authorities have set up numerous health centers, mobile clinics and ambulances. Inside the Grand Mosque, female doctors stand ready to intervene in different places.

With AFP