Saudi Arabia expects 1 million to attend the largest hajj since virus.

MECCA (Saudi Arabia) -- A million Muslim pilgrims gathered in Saudi Arabia's holy capital of Mecca Wednesday to perform the largest hajj since the outbreak of the coronavirus, which severely restricted access to one of Islam’s five pillars.

Saudi Arabia expects 1 million to attend the largest hajj since virus.

MECCA (Saudi Arabia) -- A million Muslim pilgrims gathered in Saudi Arabia's holy capital of Mecca Wednesday to perform the largest hajj since the outbreak of the coronavirus, which severely restricted access to one of Islam’s five pillars.

Saudi Arabia's decision that 850,000 Muslims from overseas can make the annual pilgrimage marks a significant step towards normality after two years of severely reduced hajj, which was restricted to Saudi residents.

The 1,000,000 pilgrims from both home and abroad are still significantly less than the 2.5 millions Muslims who traveled to the pilgrimage in 2019, which is often one of the largest pilgrimages on the planet. Participants in the 2019 ritual must be aged less than 65 years old, have been vaccinated against coronaviruses and have had their COVID-19 test negative within 72 hours. An online lottery system selects the pilgrims from millions of applicants.

Saudi officials visited the holy site Wednesday, and they stressed their readiness to receive pilgrims in the interest of maintaining public health.

Saudi authorities permitted only 1,000 pilgrims to visit the kingdom after the coronavirus infected them in 2020. This prompted historians to draw a comparison between the disruption and 1979's dramatic closure.

The hajj was also restricted last year to fully vaccinated Muslims who live in Saudi Arabia. Many believers, who had worked for years to save up for this religious rite, were shocked by the unprecedented restrictions.

Saudi authorities want to ease virus restrictions this year. The largest share of Saudi Arabia's gross domestic products after oil was contributed by religious pilgrimages, which brought in $12 billion.

While virus cases in Saudi Arabia have steadily increased to more than 500 per day, the government has lifted the indoor mask mandate and other precautions. About 70% of the country have been vaccinated against this virus.

According to the Quran, all Muslims who are financially and physically able should make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives. Five days of intense worship in Mecca is what Pilgrims do. They perform a series rituals and travel from all parts of the world to join them.

The route of the hajj is a path that Prophet Muhammad took nearly 1,400 years ago. It is believed to follow the tracks of Abraham and Ishmael, as well as prophets Ibrahim and Ismail.

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