Islam’s annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia will return to pre-pandemic levels this year after restrictions saw the annual religious commemoration curtailed over concerns about the coronavirus, authorities say.
The hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, represents one of the world’s largest gatherings of people. Before the pandemic, the pilgrimage drew millions each year to Islam’s holy city of Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that observant Muslims pray toward five times a day.
In 2019, over 2.4 million people took part in the pilgrimage. But in 2020, amid the lockdowns sparked by the pandemic, Saudi Arabia drastically curtailed the hajj with as as few as 1,000 residents of Saudi Arabia permitted to take part. It was an unprecedented move unseen even during the 1918 flu epidemic that killed tens of millions worldwide.
In 2021, some 60,000 residents of Saudi Arabia attended. Last year saw 1 million faithful perform the pilgrimage.