Muslim pilgrims leave prayers outside Namira Mosque in Arafat on the second day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, June 27, 2023. Image Credit: AP

MECCA, Saudi Arabia: This year’s annual hajj pilgrimage has drawn more than 1.8 million worshippers, Saudi Arabia’s statistics authority said Tuesday, a long way short of a record despite predictions of peak attendance.

The kingdom’s officials had predicted this year’s rituals, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, would draw more than 2.5 million pilgrims, making it the largest to date.

Also read

But official figures carried by the state-run Al Ekhbariya TV showed they were still short of the 2.5 million worshippers who took part in 2019.

“The total number of pilgrims for this Hajj season... is 1,845,045 male and female pilgrims,” the Saudi statistics authority said, according to Al Ekhbariya.

This year’s figures still mark 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, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, rising to nearly 59,000 a year later.

The Hajj is among the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.