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Hajj pilgrims overseas rejoice after two-year absence from Covid

#Hajj #pilgrims #overseas #rejoice #twoyear #absence #Covid

Of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who descended on Mecca this week for the annual haj pilgrimage, perhaps none had a more arduous journey than Adam Mohammed, a 53-year-old electrical engineer from the United Kingdom.

Mohammed, who is of Iraqi Kurdish origin, decided last year to travel to Saudi Arabia on foot, a journey of more than 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) that took him through nine countries before crossing from Jordan to the northwestern Saudi Arabia City crossed Tabuk.

The journey was made even more dramatic by the fact that when he began his trek 11 months ago, pushing a cart loaded with his groceries and other supplies, he had no idea if he would be able to access the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina .

Just in April, Saudi Arabia, which barred overseas pilgrims in 2020 and 2021 as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, announced that one million Muslims, including 850,000 from abroad, could attend this year.

Now safe in Mecca, about 15 kilograms lighter than when he started, Mohammed has no regrets.

“I cried when I arrived. It’s an incredible feeling,” he told AFP.

“My journey was arduous. I stopped in many places to rest. But I focused on one thing: I am 53 years old, what if I travel 11 months to reach the house of God? It is makeable.”

Mohammed said Saudi authorities have granted him and his wife and two daughters, who have flown to the Gulf Kingdom from Britain, permission to take part in the hajj, which consists of a series of religious rites performed in Mecca and surrounding areas to the west Saudi Arabia to be carried out.

Most other foreigners performing the rite were chosen through a lottery system.

– ‘It’s my dream’ –

The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, must be observed at least once in a lifetime by all healthy Muslims who have the means to do so.

But the pandemic restrictions have forced countless would-be pilgrims outside of Saudi Arabia to put their plans on hold.

Usually one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, attended by about 2.5 million people in 2019 before the pandemic began.

The following year, foreigners were blocked and the total number of worshipers capped at 10,000 to prevent the Hajj from becoming a global super-spreader.

That number rose to 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents by 2021.

Hosting the Hajj is a matter of prestige and a powerful source of legitimacy for the Saudi rulers.

The ban on overseas pilgrims has caused deep disappointment among Muslims worldwide, who typically save for years to attend.

Although the number is much higher this year, there are still some restrictions: Participants must be Muslims under the age of 65, who are fully vaccinated and can provide a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours prior to travel.

The Hajj officially begins on Wednesday, and Mecca is already overrun with believers who, like Mohammed, are relieved to have finally reached their destination after a long, stressful wait.

A 30-year-old Russian pilgrim, who gave her name as Halima, said she had been envisioning her stay in Mecca for more than a decade.

The hajj costs at least $5,000 per person, and Halima said she shared her story with friends to raise money for her and her father.

“Yesterday was the first time I saw the Kaaba,” she said, referring to the large black cubic structure at the center of the Grand Mosque.

“It’s my dream to be here and now I’m living it.”

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#Hajj #pilgrims #overseas #rejoice #twoyear #absence #Covid

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