MECCA, Saudi Arabia — (AP) — Muslim pilgrims streamed into the holy city of Mecca on Friday ahead of the start of Hajj next week, as the annual pilgrimage returns to its monumental scale after three years of heavy restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Saudi officials say close to 1.5 million foreign pilgrims have arrived in the country so far, the vast majority by air. More are expected, and hundreds of thousands of Saudis and others living in Saudi Arabia will also join them when the pilgrimage officially begins on Monday.
Saudi officials have said they expect the number of pilgrims to reach pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, more than 2.4 million Muslims made the pilgrimage.
On Friday, pilgrims thronged the Grand Mosque in Mecca to attend weekly communal prayers. Many then did a ritual circuit walking seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure inside the Grand Mosque that is Islam’s holiest site. …