Happiness and excitement fill the air as the annual pilgrimage of Hajj commences in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslims from all walks of life, adorned in bright white robes, encircle the Kaaba, the magnificent cubed structure at the heart of Islam’s most sacred site, their voices filled with prayers and joy.
The pilgrimage, which started on Sunday, promises to be a record-breaking event, surpassing all previous attendance records. An official from the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah declared, “This year, we will witness the largest Hajj pilgrimage in history.”
With the relaxation of coronavirus pandemic restrictions that had been in place since 2020, more than 2.5 million Muslims are expected to participate in this year’s Hajj. This is a stark contrast to the limited numbers allowed in previous years, with only 10,000 people permitted in 2020, followed by 59,000 in 2021, and a cap of one million participants last year.
Abdelazim, a 65-year-old Egyptian who had saved diligently for 20 years to gather the required $6000, expressed his elation, saying, “I am living the most beautiful days of my life.” Speaking to the AFP news agency at the site, he highlighted the significance of this momentous occasion.
As the sun sets on Sunday evening, the pilgrims will begin their journey to Mina, located approximately 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Mecca’s grand mosque, known as al-Masjid al-Haram. From there, they will gather at Mount Arafat, a place where Prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his final sermon.
To ensure the well-being and comfort of the pilgrims, Mina has been fully prepared, with abundant food supplies and deployed security forces. This year’s Hajj poses a unique challenge as it takes place amidst scorching temperatures, with the mercury rising up to nearly 45 degrees Celsius. However, Saudi authorities have made extensive arrangements, with over 32,000 healthcare professionals and numerous ambulances on standby to provide immediate assistance in cases of heatstroke, dehydration, or exhaustion.
Hajj is a sacred obligation for every physically capable Muslim adult who possesses the financial means to undertake the journey. It stands as one of the five pillars of Islam, serving as a spiritually and emotionally transformative experience. The pilgrimage aims to purify the hearts and souls of its followers, bringing them closer to God.
This year, Hajj is scheduled to take place between June 26 and July 1, coinciding with the celebration of Eid al-Adha on June 28. While the pilgrimage carries a significant cost, it remains an inspiration of hope for many, even for those residing in war-torn, impoverished, or occupied regions. Countless individuals have saved diligently for years, making sacrifices to gather the necessary funds for this auspicious journey.
Last week, four groups of pilgrims embarked on their voyage from Gaza, their spirits soaring with happiness. Similarly, pilgrims from northwestern Syria joyfully streamed through border crossings with Turkey. Additionally, Yemenis experienced a momentous occasion as they boarded the first direct flight to Saudi Arabia for Hajj since 2016.
As the Hajj pilgrimage unfolds with an atmosphere of joy and smiles, let us cherish the unity, devotion, and happiness it brings to millions of Muslims worldwide.