News ID: 104462
Publish Date : 05 July 2022 - 21:50

MECCA (Al Jazeera) – After a two-year absence, international pilgrims will perform the yearly Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia for the first time starting Wednesday, after previously being restricted amid the kingdom’s battle to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
Some one million people are expected to be in attendance in the holy city of Mecca in Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) for the start of the five-day ritual – a large jump from last year when only 60,000 pilgrims were permitted. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic’s early waves and before vaccines were available, about 10,000 were selected.
“We are very excited and happy to be here [for Hajj] … It’s a great feeling to do something that is a core religious duty,” Hammad Tahir, a Pakistani citizen, told Al Jazeera via phone from the western city of Medina, Islam’s second holiest site.
Many Muslims around the world have been worried about attending a mass gathering of people while the pandemic continues, and infections are rising in some countries.
The Saudi government eased several COVID-19 restrictions last month, including mask mandates.
Masking will no longer be needed in “closed spaces” except in the Grand Mosque, the holiest site in Islam, the Ministry of Interior said. However, organizers of festivals and events in the city can choose to enforce masking or require proof of vaccination via the local Tawakkalna app, the ministry added.
Maha Elgenaidi, a pilgrim from the United States, said despite the requirement of masks in the Grand Mosque, only “10 percent” of people were masking.
However, she added: “With the requirements the Saudis had for vaccinations and boosters, I think it’s fine.” As per Saudi government guidelines, only people who are fully vaccinated and aged below 65 years are permitted to perform the Hajj this year.
Many pilgrims feel that the advances made during the pandemic mean that it is now safe to attend.
Elgenaidi, the founder and innovation director of Islamic Networks Group (ING), said she initially had no plans to attend the Hajj this year, but was inspired to do so after performing Umrah in January – a shorter pilgrimage to Mecca that can be performed at any time of the year.

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