Cairo: The just-ended Ramadan marked a U-turn in the influx of worshippers to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, which witnessed large crowds of the faithful, underlining its full recovery from the pandemic-induced fallout.
The divergence was captured in two pictures posted this week by Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfik Al Rabiah with three years in-between. One picture taken in 2020 shows the Grand Mosque empty.
In a sharp contrast, the second snapped this year, shows the mosque teeming with worshippers to full capacity.
“From saddening absence to joyous fullness,” commented the official on the two images.
“Thank Allah for His Grace and blessing. The pandemic is over. Muslims have returned to perform Umrah and visit the two holy mosques,” he added on Twitter.
Ramadan usually marks the peak of Umrah season at the Grand Mosque, particularly in the last 10 days of the month.
Saudi authorities described this season as exceptional, citing record numbers of the faithful thronging the Grand Mosque in Ramadan.
At least 2.5 million worshippers performed the Isha (evening) and the voluntary nightly Taraweeh prayers and attended the completion of the Holy Quran recitation at the Grand Mosque on the 28th night of Ramadan, according to the Saudi news agency SPA.
The number of worshippers at the site reached more than 22 million in the first 20 days of Ramadan, according to official Saudi figures.
In recent months, the kingdom has unveiled a host of facilities for Muslims wishing to come to the country to perform Umrah or lesser pilgrimage.
Muslims holding different types of entry visas such as the personal, visit and tourism visas are allowed to undertake Umrah and visit Al Rawda Al Sharifa, where the tomb of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is located at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.
Saudi authorities have also extended the Umrah visa from 30 days to 90 and allowed holders to enter the kingdom via all land, air and sea outlets and leave from any airport.
As part of facilities, Saudi Arabia has said its citizens can apply for visas inviting their friends abroad to visit the kingdom and undertake Umrah.
The kingdom has also announced that expatriates residing in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are eligible to apply for a tourist visa, regardless of their profession, and be able to perform Umrah.
In October 2020, Saudi Arabia gradually resumed Umrah after about seven months of suspension due to COVID-19. In August 2021, overseas Muslims wishing to perform Umrah were allowed back into Saudi Arabia under certain health conditions to curb COVID-19 spread.
In March last year, Saudi Arabia lifted most anti-coronavirus restrictions. This included scrapping physical distancing among worshippers at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mohammad Mosque.