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Joyful Gathering: Hajj Pilgrimage Commences in Saudi Arabia, Anticipating 2 Million Pilgrims Following Easing of Covid Restrictions

In a momentous event, approximately 2 million Muslim pilgrims embarked on the annual Haj pilgrimage on Monday, commencing their journey from Mecca. They circled around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site, before congregating at a vast tent camp located in the nearby desert. This gathering, known as the Haj, has now returned to its full capacity after three years since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Haj pilgrimage holds great significance as one of the five pillars of Islam, obligating all physically and financially capable Muslims to undertake this sacred journey at least once in their lifetime. For pilgrims, it is an immensely profound spiritual experience that grants forgiveness for sins, strengthens their connection with God, and unifies the global community of over 1.8 billion Muslims. Many devotees spend years saving money and patiently waiting for the opportunity to obtain a permit to embark on this revered pilgrimage.

The rituals performed during Haj primarily commemorate the accounts in the Quran related to the lives of Ibrahim (Abraham), his son Ismail (Ishmael), and Ismail's mother, Hajar (Hagar). In recent days, pilgrims have been engaging in the ritualistic circumambulation of the Kaaba upon their arrival in Mecca. As the final group completed this act on Monday, the pilgrims then made their way to Mina, either by foot or by bus, where they will reside in one of the largest tent cities in the world. In Mina, they will engage in continuous prayers throughout the day and night, preparing for their journey to Mount Arafat on Tuesday—a site where it is believed the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon.

Mina, with its vast open expanse, offers little respite from the scorching desert heat and intense sunlight. To provide relief, soldiers sprayed water on the pilgrims to cool them down. Yehya Al-Ghanam, an Egyptian businessman, expressed his indescribable emotions upon reaching Mina, stating that tears of joy and happiness streamed down his face. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the emotions surrounding his pilgrimage, he revealed that he had been unable to sleep, dedicating only one hour per day to rest in the past 15 days.

After their time at Arafat, pilgrims proceed to Muzdalifa, where they gather pebbles for the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina. The final three days of the Haj coincide with the joyous Eid al-Adha holiday, during which Muslims worldwide sacrifice livestock and distribute the meat to the less fortunate, engaging in acts of charity and generosity.

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