Muslim Pilgrims Attend Final Hajj Ceremony at Kaaba ShrineWorld | November 29, 2009, Sunday // 17:54| views
Muslim pilgrims from all over the world have congregated at the holy Kaaba shrine in Mecca, at the end of the annual Hajj. Photo by wordpress.com
Up to two million Muslim devotees have completed this year’s Hajj pilgrimage by gathering in Mecca to circle the cube-shaped Kaaba.
The ceremony is the culmination of days of ritual undertaken by Muslims all over the world. It is expected that every able-bodied Muslim should make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.
It had been estimated that attendance would be down, given the effects of the global economic crisis and fear of the swine flu virus.
Pilgrims from Bulgaria numbered some 400, half the numbers for 2008, according to the country’s Chief Mufti, Vedat Ahmed.
The Saudi Health Minister, Abdullah al-Rabeeah, announced on Sunday that 5 pilgrims had died of swine flu, with another 68 having been identified as suffering the effects of the virus.
"Our safety precautions have secured a very successful and safe Hajj for pilgrims from around the world with no infectious disease outbreaks,” he stated, noting the small number of victims and sufferers, despite the fact that only 10% of the pilgrims had taken effective personal preventive measures against the virus.
Extensive health precautions had been put in place for the gathering, the largest regular gathering in the world, by the Saudi government in cooperation with international medical advisers.
A database has also been initiated, using the pilgrimage as a test case, to check for mutations and look out for lessons on controlling the virus at other large gatherings, such as the 2010 soccer World Cup hosted by South Africa.
Some experts have warned that, despite the low casualty figures at this year’s Hajj, the virus may be spreading stealthily among pilgrims, and that the true extent of the effects of the virus will not be known until later, after the pilgrims have returned to their home countries around the world.
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