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Millions pray at Mecca’s Grand Mosque in largest such event since COVID hit

Believers from all across the world flock to Islam’s holiest site for Ramadan ceremony

Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, durning the hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on August 13, 2019. (Amr Nabil/AP)
Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, durning the hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on August 13, 2019. (Amr Nabil/AP)

Over two million Muslim worshipers from around the world gathered on Wednesday for nighttime prayers at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, the first time so many gathered at the holy site since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worshipers gathered on Wednesday night for Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny) when Muslims believe the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, on one of the few remaining nights before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 1.

The Grand Mosque houses the cube-shaped Kaaba that observant Muslims pray toward five times a day.

The stone, which Islamic tradition holds fell at the time of Adam and Eve, is framed in pure silver at the southeast corner of the Kaaba, itself said to have been constructed by Abraham and his son Ishmael.

During the hajj, which Muslims are instructed to complete at least once in their lifetime, pilgrims perform Tawaf, or circumambulation, seven times counter-clockwise, around the Kaaba.

Worshipers usually touch, kiss, or wave at al-Hajar al-Aswad stone when walking past it.

Saudi government-run SPA said workers at the mosque toiled throughout Ramadan to clean and disinfect the site ahead of the gathering.

At last year’s hajj, Saudi Arabia limited daily attendance to 50,000 pilgrims inside the Grand Mosque, only allowing individuals who had been vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19 to perform prayers at the Kaaba.

Mecca authorities also made meticulous security arrangements to ensure the safety of the crowds, SPA reported.

Nighttime prayers on Wednesday were also held in Jerusalem, where over 100,000 Muslim worshipers gathered on the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Thousands of police were deployed to Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of the prayers Wednesday and into Thursday at the compound, where officials have been trying to prevent a flare-up of violence for several weeks.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa complex, is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. Over the past few weeks, it has been the site of riots and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, during heightened tensions as Muslims mark Ramadan and Jews observed Passover.

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