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Intl Hajj pilgrims bring back times of prosperity to Mecca

Significant numbers of international pilgrims thronged the streets of Mecca for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing back life and business to Islam’s religious capital.

The time of Hajj, the pilgrimage to al-Kaʿba al-Musharrafah, a black cuboid structure in the centre of the Great Mosque of Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam – precepts that every Muslim is expected to follow. It is during this time that hundreds of thousands of believers descend from far and wide onto the city of Mecca to perform a series of rituals, one of which includes circling the Cube.

During their free time, pilgrims walk the streets of Mecca, exchange currencies, buy goods and commodities, perfumes and spices, cloths and prayer rugs, filling Saudi vendors’ coffers and boosting the Kingdom’s economy.

This year, after two years of pandemic disruption, Saudi Arabia allowed up to one million foreign travellers to perform the Hajj – a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim.

Needless to say, this is not just about a low-key retail shopping spree. The great numbers of pilgrims need to be accommodated and transported, they need to pay fees and feel morally obliged to buy gifts for their families and relatives at home.

Before the pandemic hamstrung the pilgrimage business, the Kingdom earned about USD 12 billion annually from the 2.6 million pilgrims that used to visit Mecca and Medina for the week-long pilgrimage, according to official data that also included about 19 million visitors for the Umrah – another form of pilgrimage, which can be carried out at any time of the year.

The business has resurged, albeit costs soared amid global inflation and constraints resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

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