Pilgrims joyful at touching Mecca’s Black Stone

Pilgrims in the Great Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia can once again touch and kiss one of Islam’s most revered relics – the Black Stone set in the sacred Kaaba building.

A barrier around the Kaaba that was set up at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has now finally been removed.

Pictures showed excited worshippers clamouring to get near the Black Stone.

The barrier, set up for social distancing, has been removed just in time for the Umrah pilgrimage season.

The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetime. It takes place at a set time of year: in 2022, it ran from July 7 to 12.

The Umrah pilgrimage could be undertaken at any time of the year and attracted millions from around the world. Pilgrims may also visit the holy city of Medina.

Saudi Arabia dropped most of its stringent COVID-19 pandemic restrictions earlier this year, which meant that the Hajj pilgrimage last month was nearly back to normal for the first time since the pandemic started.

In 2020, only 1,000 people were allowed to attend Hajj, which was the holiest of all pilgrimages for Muslims. Only worshippers from Saudi Arabia were allowed to take part, and international pilgrims were banned.

Attendance increased to 60,000 in 2021, and in July this year, there were more than a million pilgrims worshipping in Mecca.

However, that was still low compared to the pre-Covid numbers – in 2019, an estimated 2.5 million people travelled to Mecca for Hajj, according to Statistica, making it the world’s largest human gathering.

In Islamic tradition, the Black Stone, which is set in the eastern corner of the iconic square Kaaba, was believed to date back to the time of Adam and Eve. It was already held as sacred before the rise of Islam, and was said to have originally been white, but turned black through receiving the sins of those who touched it.

Pilgrims travelling to Islam’s holiest site were expected to socially distance and wear face masks. The event was larger than in 2020, but was still far smaller than usual years. -BBC

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