23 June 2023

Nearly 1.5m foreign pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia for annual hajj

23 June 2023

Muslim pilgrims have streamed into the holy city of Mecca ahead of the start of the hajj next week, as the annual pilgrimage returns to its monumental scale after three years of heavy restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Saudi officials say close to 1.5 million foreign pilgrims have arrived in the country so far, the vast majority by air.

More are expected, and hundreds of thousands of Saudis and others living in Saudi Arabia will also join them when the pilgrimage officially begins on Monday.

Saudi officials have said they expect the number of pilgrims to reach pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, more than 2.4 million Muslims made the pilgrimage.

On Friday, pilgrims thronged the Grand Mosque in Mecca to attend weekly communal prayers.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to undertake it at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so.

It is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

This year’s pilgrimage will be the first without the restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Fewer than 10,000 pilgrims performed the hajj in 2020 and around 60,000 in 2021 — all of them residents of Saudi Arabia since pilgrims were forbidden to come from abroad.

Last year, around 900,000 made the pilgrimage as Saudi Arabia allowed limited numbers of pilgrims from abroad.

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