Muslims circle the Kaaba (centre of Islam) seven times from around its base as well as on the roof of the Great Mosque of the Haram Sharif in Mecca, Saudi Arabia 12 January 2005. EPA/FILE/KHALED EL FIQI

Hajj pilgrimage returns to full capacity in Saudi Arabia after years of COVID restrictions

Riyadh, June 25 (EFE).- Millions of Muslims from around the world have gathered in the Saudi city of Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which begins Monday night and marks the first time in three years without the restrictions imposed during the coronavirus outbreak.

An aerial view shows Muslim pilgrims circumventing around the holly Kaaba located in the center of the Haram Sharif Great Mosque, during the Muslim's Hajj 2012 pilgrimage, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 27 october 2012. EFE-EPA/ALAA BADARNEH

An estimated two million foreigners have arrived in the kingdom to perform the pilgrimage, which includes several days of rituals at Muslim holy sites in and around the city of Mecca, home to the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure considered the most sacred place and a powerful symbol of unity and monotheism in Islam.

Muslim Hajj pilgrims praying around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia,18 August 2018. EFE-EPA/SEDAT SUNA

The Arab kingdom is hosting the pilgrimage at full capacity without restrictions for the first time since the pandemic began, as the number of pilgrims will return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Two men look at the Kaaba as pilgrims circumvent it as they perform last 'tawaf' (circumambulate the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction) and important ritual to finish the hajj pilgrimage at the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque), during Hajj at the Holy City of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 14 September 2016. EPA/FAZRY ISMAIL

The authorities have indicated that pilgrims will not have to show their COVID-19 vaccination certificates or a negative PCR test as required last year.

Transport Minister Saleh bin Naser al Yaser confirmed the kingdom’s preparedness to serve the pilgrims, including transportation services, health facilities, and road cooling.

Al Yaser also mentioned that drones would be used to “transport blood samples, inspect roads, and control traffic” during this year’s pilgrimage season.

There will be 1,000 electric scooters available to serve the pilgrims as well as 24,000 buses for transportation between the sacred sites, he said.

The president of the Jeddah Airports Company, the closest to Mecca, Ayman Abu Ababa, said that six international airports were flying the pilgrims.

The “Hajj,” one of the pillars of Islam, includes counterclockwise circumambulation of the Kaaba.

The pilgrimage is obligatory at least once in the lifetime of every Muslim whose health and resources allow it.

The journey includes visits to the sacred sites of Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad and the religion he propagated more than 1,400 years ago were born, and to the city of Medina, located about 400 km to the north, where the mosque in which he is buried is located.

The pilgrims also visit the holy places outside Mecca—Jabal al-Raḥmah, Muzdalifah, and Mina—and carry out animal sacrifices in commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice.

Muslims believe the pilgrimage wipes away their sins, brings them closer to Allah, and highlights Muslim unity. EFE