RIYADH, 18 July 2021:
Muslims living in Saudi Arabia began their haj pilgrimage today amid strict rules for the second consecutive year over coronavirus fears.
Only 60,000 fully vaccinated residents are allowed to take part in this year’s annual ritual.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, up to 2 million Muslims from around the world gathered in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to perform Islam’s largest congregation.
The worshippers arrived in the Mina Valley outside Mecca to spend the whole day in tents before heading to Mount Arafat tomorrow to participate in the main rituals of haj.
Before converging on Mina, the faithful walked seven times in a counter-clockwise direction around the Ka’abah, Islam’s most sacred site.
This year, Saudi Arabia introduced smart technology to assist pilgrims in an attempt to boost contact tracing and reduce the risk of infections.
The faithful will be using a smart card with their identity, their nationality and place of accommodation, as well as information about their health status.
Haj, which the kingdom limited to only 10,000 people last year, is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a mandatory duty for all Muslims to complete once in a lifetime if they have the financial and physical means to do so.