With attendance at the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca limited for the second year in a row due to coronavirus restrictions, Saudi Arabia has for the first time released images of the ancient holy stone of the Kaaba, a black masonry cube at the center of the ritual that Muslims around the world pray to daily.
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Saudi Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque released photos of the al-Hajar al-Aswad, or the Black Stone, as part of a series showing a number of holy artifacts that play a role in the hajj.
The General Presidency, which oversees the holy sites in Mecca, said 1,050 high-resolution photographs were taken in a seven-hour session. The images are up to 49,000 megapixels in size and took more than 50 hours to photograph and develop, the religious agency said.
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.
Observant Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba five times a day.
At this year’s hajj, which takes place during the holy month of Ramadan, Saudi Arabia has limited daily attendance to 50,000 pilgrims inside the Grand Mosque, only allowing individuals who have been vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19 to perform prayers at the Kaaba.