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One million Muslim pilgrims are converging on Saudi Arabia’s tent city of Mina on Thursday for the largest Hajj since the coronavirus pandemic strictly reduced access to one of Islam’s five pillars.
In the afternoon, they will head to the Safa and Marwah hills near the Kaaba, where they either run or walk seven times between the hills, to symbolically emulate the run of Prophet Ishmael’s mother Hajjar in search of water for her son.
Pilgrims will then spend the entire night until dawn on Friday in Mina, where they will prepare for the Day of Arafat, the most important day of the Hajj pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman said serving Hajj and Umrah pilgrims has been at the forefront of the kingdom’s priorities. "We are proud to continue this mission with the highest competency," he said.
Speaking to The National from Mina, Pakistani pilgrim Abdullah Shamim said excitement has been palpable.
“Everyone's excited to be part of the right resumption of Hajj post-Covid where the Saudi government has really managed things extremely efficiently," he said. "There are numerous official government apps informing and guiding pilgrims each and every step of the journey.
For first-time Indian pilgrim Rushda Babukhan, performing the Hajj this year with her siblings is an opportunity to which she has been looking forward.
“To prepare for it I’ve been watching a series called Sweetness of Hajj and apart from that just talking to other family members who have the experience, and taking pointers,” she said.
Ms Babukhan said one of the first things she noticed when entering Makkah and Mina was the strong female presence among those working to ensure a smooth Hajj.
“When I arrived I saw that most of the immigration officers were women and they were all very confident and good at what they do," she said. "They were all covered and following the rules of Islam and I loved seeing that."
The Hajj follows a route the Prophet Mohammed walked nearly 1,400 years ago and is believed to trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.