SAUDI ARABIA – ISLAM Mecca: one million pilgrims in the first Hajj after the acute phase of Covid

In the last two years, the global pandemic had limited the number of pilgrims, preventing income. For the first time, women will be able to participate without the presence of a male “guardian.” In the past, the great pilgrimage was the scene of incidents, attacks and was also used by Riyadh as a political weapon.

Riyadh () – Last weekend Saudi Arabia received almost a million Muslim faithful from different parts of the world, who from July 6 to 12 will participate in the Hajj, the largest pilgrimage to Mecca, the first great meeting since the start of the pandemic. In the last two years, Covid-19 greatly reduced the participation of Muslims, to the point that in 2020 the event was rather symbolic, with barely tens of thousands of people, citizens or residents of the Wahhabi kingdom. This year, however, the event returns – at least in part – to its former glory and, for the first time, women will not need a male “guardian”.

Banners and posters welcomed worshipers to Mecca – including the first international visitors since 2019 – who thronged the squares and alleys as security forces patrolled the hometown of the Prophet Muhammad. “This is pure joy,” he told AFP Abdel Qader Kheder, a pilgrim from Sudan. “I almost can’t believe I’m here. I’m enjoying every moment of it,” the man added.

One million pilgrims will participate in the event, of which 850,000 come from abroad. This figure is lower than the pre-pandemic records (2.5 million in 2019), but it is certainly a good number when compared to more recent events. For this year, strict health security measures will also govern: only the participation of those under 65 years of age is allowed, there are specific protocols and the great mosque is cleaned and sanitized at least 10 times a day.

The Hajj, which costs just under 5,000 euros per person, is one of the main engines of the economy linked to tourism, which contributes more than 11,000 million euros a year to the state coffers, in addition to guaranteeing a privileged status among the Islamic nations. On the other hand, it is an opportunity to showcase a nation in rapid transformation, even as it continues to draw criticism for violations of human rights and personal freedoms, including the religious freedom of non-Muslims. Saudi Arabia – which under recent reforms has allowed raves in Riyadh and the mixed beaches in Jeddah – now allows women to participate in the pilgrimage without a male guardian or guardian.

The major pilgrimage (Hajj) is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, and every Muslim must undertake it at least once in their life. In the past, Riyadh used the Hajj as a political weapon, denying entry visas and participation to Iranian (Shiite) or Syrian worshipers because of the war. It has also been the scene of incidents or attacks, with thousands of deaths: in 2015, a stampede in the crowd claimed at least 2,300 lives; in 2006, more than 360 pilgrims died during the stoning ritual, in which pilgrims throw stones and pebbles at three tombstones symbolizing rejection of Satan; In 1989, a double attack in front of the great mosque left one fatality and 16 injured, and 16 Kuwaiti citizens were executed for the attack.

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