Hajj 2020 began in earnest on Wednesday as 1,000 pilgrims began their spiritual journey amid a raft of protective measures to ensure their health and safety.
The pilgrims walked into the Grand Mosque in Makkah to start the rituals with their first “tawaf,” the circumambulation of the Kaaba.
“This is an indescribable feeling,” said Mohamed Ibrahim, 43, an Egyptian electrician from Madinah. “It feels like a dream.”
The pilgrims were directed into the mosque in small groups, walking along paths marked on the floor, in contrast to the sea of humanity that usually swirls around the Kaaba during Hajj.
Numbers are restricted this year to about 1,000, compared with the usual 2.5 million, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Female officers are on duty with Makkah’s police force this Hajj season for the first time since women were enabled to serve in 2019. Afnan Abu Hussein was among the first group to graduate from the training course. “This is a source of pride and happiness for us,” she said.
Macedonian pilgrim Hamide Halimi told Arab News she was pleased at being able to perform Hajj in the company of other women.
“In my group, we’re 20-something women and throughout this experience, I’ve been with women only … it’s an amazing sisterhood experience,” she said.
Halimi has performed Umrah before, but the crowds were so large she was far from the Kaaba and had to circumambulate from the Grand Mosque’s roof. This year she could not believe how close she was to the Kaaba. “It was a surreal moment that I could never have imagined happening,” she said.
Later on Wednesday, the pilgrims returned to their accommodation in Mina, where they spent the night in prayer and reflection. On Thursday, in the spiritual pinnacle of the Hajj, they will climb Mount Arafat, the “Mount of Mercy.”
Ammar Khaled, 29, an Indian pilgrim born and raised in Saudi Arabia, said that although he was alone on the Hajj he was praying for his loved ones. “Words aren’t enough to explain how blessed I feel,” he said.