Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims arrive at Mina for the Hajj pilgrimage. They endure high temperatures, perform rituals, and sleep in white tents. With increased security measures, this year’s pilgrimage aims to be the largest in history.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims arrived on Monday at the site of Mina, a few kilometers from the Grand Mosque of Mecca, to perform one of the main rites of Hajj, the major Muslim pilgrimage in western Saudi Arabia.

Under scorching sun, the faithful made the journey on foot or in air-conditioned buses to Mina, where they will spend the night before ascending Mount Arafat on Tuesday, the highest point of one of the largest religious gatherings in the world.

After completing the Tawaf, the circumambulation around the Kaaba on Sunday, the faithful will sleep in air-conditioned white tents in Mina.

This location is situated in a valley surrounded by rocky mountains, seven kilometers from the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the holiest city in Islam.

This year’s pilgrimage is expected to be the largest in history, according to Saudi authorities who hope to surpass the record of 2.5 million visitors in 2019.

In 2020 and 2021, during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, only a few thousand faithful were welcomed in the kingdom before the quota was raised to 926,000 last year.

The Hajj is conducted under high security to prevent a repetition of the tragedies that have marked its history.

A stampede in 2015 resulted in 2,300 deaths, but no major incidents have been reported since.

Helicopters and AI-powered drones have been deployed to monitor the flow of pilgrims to Mina, as stated by the authorities.

Autonomous buses, utilizing the same technology and capable of carrying up to 11 passengers, have been put into service.

Visitors without the necessary permit for Hajj are subject to penalties including up to six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 riyals ($13,300).

The high temperatures in one of the hottest regions in the world pose one of the main risks for pilgrims.

The Saudi Ministry of Health has urged at-risk individuals to stay indoors at noon and has set up four hospitals and 26 healthcare centers in Mina.

Numerous fire trucks have been deployed in the massive Mina encampment.

After the night in Mina, the pilgrims will spend several hours on Tuesday praying and reciting the Quran on Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his final sermon, a significant stage of Hajj.

On Wednesday, the faithful will symbolically stone the devil by throwing stones at symbolic locations before returning to Mecca for a final circumambulation of the Kaaba.

George Haddad, with AFP