Pilgrims celebrated the beginning of Eid Al Adha in Makkah on Wednesday as Saudi Arabia’s Hajj began winding down.
Worshippers wearing masks repeated the Jamarat stoning of the devil ritual, throwing pebbles at all three stone pillars, before spending the evening in their camps in Mina.
Those taking part told The National they felt elated at the opportunity to undertake this once-in-a-lifetime Hajj.
“Those who perform Hajj are believed to be like a new baby, all their mistakes are gone, and I'm feeling this. By every step of the rituals we do, I feel a part of me is getting purer. I feel gradually I'm being reborn,” Atheer Bahakim, 18, said.
Ms Bahakim said she had not known what to expect for her first Hajj, but so far, it was the journey of a lifetime.
The most significant moment was when people were walking together and saying the special prayer dedicated to Hajj, called talbiyah, she said.
“They were all saying 'labaik Allahuma labaik' together. It was so majestic. I got goosebumps from it.”
Ms Bahakim's mother, who is also performing Hajj this year, agreed this point was the most significant.
“I was tearing up when I heard the talbiyah. All these people are here for one purpose and asking the same God, all are here for this journey and all are saying the same words. It is really a magnificent scene.”
In down time between Hajj activities, pilgrims began to celebrate Eid Al Adha, buying gifts to take home for loved ones, such as prayer beads, personalised prayer mats, Qurans, prayer books and locally made jewellery as shops opened on the second day of the holiday.
Food is also a main attraction, with pilgrims queuing at the famous Al Baik chicken shop and enjoying coffee and cake in cafes.
“We see people here wishing to be with their families, but not everyone can. We are lucky to be here on this holy journey together, and we hope God accepts our Hajj,” pilgrim Shatha Al Haddah said.
The day spent at Arafat was the most meaningful for her.
“When we were in Arafat, it was like a dream. I couldn't believe we were actually there,” said the 36-year-old.
Her sister, Shahad Al Haddah, said that despite the challenging journey, all pilgrims are bearing with the heat and the hardship for the emotional blessing of performing the pilgrimage. “I also admired how despite all, these people are still smiling, praying and helping each other,” she said.
Keeping this year’s 60,000 pilgrims safe during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a complex logistical challenge that started with strict criteria on who was allowed to attend.
Only those who had been fully vaccinated with no underlying conditions and who already resided in the kingdom were accepted.
A number of technological methods were also put in place to aid social distancing, including smartcards.
The plastic cards are available in green, red, yellow and blue. The colours correspond to markings on the ground guiding pilgrims through the different stages of the Hajj.
The digital system also allows authorities to guide the tens of thousands who attend the annual event, which in years past has at times been marred by deadly stampedes and accidents.
Each card contains basic information about each pilgrim, including their registration number, exact location of their accommodation, mobile phone number and the ID number of their guide.
- Agencies contributed to this report