Hajj pilgrims streamed out of the holy metropolis of Mecca and into the Mina valley on Sunday, launching the rituals of the good pilgrimage which Saudi Arabia is holding in a scaled-down type for a second yr.

Solely 60,000 absolutely vaccinated residents and residents of the dominion are allowed to participate, removed from the huge crowds that descend on Mecca in regular occasions when the ritual drew as much as 2.5 million pilgrims.

Since Saturday, teams of pilgrims have been performing the “tawaf” at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, circling the Kaaba, a big cubic construction draped in golden-embroidered black fabric in direction of which Muslims world wide pray.

After that, they’ve been making their method to Mina, the place they’ll spend the night time. Mina sits in a slim valley surrounded by rocky mountains, some 5 kilometres (three miles) from the Grand Mosque, and is remodeled annually into an unlimited encampment for pilgrims.

Pilgrims had been introduced there Sunday on buses which had been solely half-filled to respect social distancing guidelines, and authorities offered 3,000 electrical vehicles to move the aged and people with restricted mobility.

“We now have utilized social distancing  contained in the camps the place there are 4 pilgrims in every room. We now have put limitations between every mattress to use social distancing,” tour operator Hadi Fouad instructed AFP.

“For the widespread areas on the camp, just like the prayer space and the cafeteria, we now have assigned a safety firm whose guards are unfold all through the camp to verify there isn’t any crowding.”

Golden ticket

Within the excessive level of the Hajj, worshippers will on Monday climb Mount Arafat.

Often known as the “Mount of Mercy”, it’s the web site the place it’s believed that the Prophet Muhammad delivered his ultimate sermon. Worshippers will undertake hours of prayers and Quranic recitals there.

After descending the next day, they’ll collect pebbles and carry out the symbolic “stoning of the satan”.

The Hajj, normally one of many world’s largest annual non secular gatherings, is among the 5 pillars of Islam and should be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at the least as soon as of their lives.

This yr’s pilgrimage is bigger than the pared-down model staged in 2020 however is drastically smaller than in regular occasions, creating resentment amongst Muslims overseas who’re barred as soon as once more.

Contributors had been chosen from greater than 558,000 candidates by means of a web-based vetting system, with the occasion confined to completely vaccinated adults aged 18-65 with no continual sicknesses.

‘A privilege’

“I thank God that we obtained approval to come back, though we didn’t count on it due to the small variety of pilgrims,” mentioned Abdulaziz bin Mahmoud, an 18-year-old Saudi.

Saddaf Ghafour, a 40-year-old Pakistani lady travelling together with her buddy, was among the many girls making the pilgrimage with out a male “guardian”, which was a requirement till just lately.

“It’s a privilege to carry out Hajj amongst a really restricted variety of pilgrims,” she mentioned.

Because the begin of the pandemic, the dominion has reported at the least 462,000 instances of the virus with 7,500 deaths.

It has administered some 15.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, in line with the World Well being Group. The dominion is residence to over 30 million individuals.

The Hajj, which usually packs massive crowds into congested non secular websites, is doubtlessly a super-spreader occasion for the virus.

However the Hajj ministry has mentioned it’s engaged on the “highest ranges of well being precautions” in gentle of the pandemic and the emergence of recent variants.

Pilgrims are being divided into teams of simply 20 “to limit any publicity to solely these 20, limiting the unfold of an infection”, ministry undersecretary Mohammad al-Bijawi mentioned.

Except for strict social distancing measures, authorities have launched a “good Hajj card” to permit contact-free entry to camps, inns and the buses to ferry pilgrims round non secular websites.

The Hajj went forward final yr on the smallest scale in fashionable historical past.

Authorities initially mentioned that only one,000 pilgrims could be allowed, though native media mentioned as much as 10,000 ultimately took half.

“Public well being groups are monitoring the well being standing of pilgrims across the clock upon their arrival in Mecca,” mentioned Sari Asiri, director of the Hajj and Umrah division on the well being ministry, of this yr’s precautions.

Anybody discovered to be contaminated could be taken to isolation services, he added.