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Pilgrims stream out of Saudi after haj

Muslim pilgrims gather around the Kaabah, at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. PHOTO: AFP

MAKKAH, SAUDI ARABIA (AFP) – Tens of thousands of Muslims streamed out of Islam’s holiest city on Friday after completing the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, an AFP correspondent said.

This year more than 1.8 million worshippers performed the haj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam and is among the world’s largest religious gatherings.

On Friday, two days after the last major ritual, tens of thousands of people packed roads and boarded buses out of Islam’s holiest sites in Makkah, bringing the haj to a close, the AFP correspondent said.

They departed after performing a farewell tawaf – circling seven times around the Kaabah in Makkah’s Grand Mosque.

“I am very happy that I finished the pilgrimage safely,” said Mohammad al-Bashir, a 47-year-old Tunisian driver who was performing his last prayers on Friday.

More than 2,000 people have suffered heat stress this year, according to Saudi authorities, after temperatures soared to 48 degrees Celsius during the annual rites.

This year’s attendance figures marked a dramatic increase on the 926,000 from last year, when numbers were capped at one million following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only 10,000 were allowed in 2020, rising to nearly 59,000 a year later.

In recent years the haj, which follows the lunar calendar, has fallen in the Saudi summer, at a time when global warming is making the desert climate even hotter.

Experts have warned that temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius could become an annual occurrence in Saudi Arabia by the end of the century.