Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims walked or took buses Monday to a massive tented city outside Makkha for the annual hajj, which Saudi officials predict will surpass attendance records.
After circumambulating the Kaaba, the massive black cube at Makkha’s Grand Mosque that Muslims pray to every day, pilgrims headed off in sweltering heat for Mina, nearly seven kilometers (more than four miles) away.
Pilgrims dressed in robes and sandals, many carrying umbrellas against the scorching sun, walked or piled onto hundreds of air-conditioned buses provided by Saudi authorities.
They will spend the night in Mina, which hosts the world’s largest encampment every year, before the hajj’s high point on Tuesday: prayers at Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reputed to have given his last speech.
“It is an experience that is worth it,” said Salim Ibrahim, a 39-year-old Nigerian, when asked about temperatures that have touched 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit).
“Even if the heat gets stronger, I will repeat the hajj again,” he added.
According to Saudi officials, this year’s hajj (one of Islam’s five pillars) could be the largest in history. Following 2.5 million attendees in 2019, the numbers were capped in 2020, 2021, and 2022 because to the Covid epidemic.
Over the years, the event has seen a number of catastrophes, including militant attacks, catastrophic fires, and a 2015 stampede that killed up to 2,300 people.
Since then, there have been no serious events.
As part of the safety measures, helicopters and AI-enabled drones have been deployed to monitor traffic movement approaching Mina, which is located in a tight valley surrounded by rugged mountains.
Between the ritual sites, including Makkha, Islam’s holiest city, Mina, and Muzdalifah, a small fleet of self-driving vehicles with seating for up to 11 passengers is in service.