In years before the coronavirus, millions of pilgrims from across the globe would flock to Islam's holiest site to attend hajj, one of the world's biggest religious gatherings. However, with a virus-induced ban on large gatherings in place, only a few thousand people attended the rituals of this year's scaled-down hajj pilgrimage.
Striking pictures showed several feet separated white-clad worshippers circumambulating the Kaaba, the holiest shrine in the grand mosque in the holy Saudi city of Mecca. Presenting a sharp contrast to the previous years' massive crowds crammed around the shrine, this year's hajj photos showed mask-wearing pilgrims walking at a measured pace, holding umbrellas to shield themselves from Saudi Arabia's blistering sun.
Only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom are participating in this year's pilgrimage, compared with 2019's gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world, reported news agency AFP.
"Holding the ritual in the shadow of this pandemic... required reducing the numbers of pilgrims, but it obliged various official agencies to put in double efforts," 84-year-old King Salman said in a speech read out on state television by acting media minister Majid Al-Qasabi.
Unlike past years when they lunged towards the Kaaba, this year, pilgrims were not allowed to touch the plain stone cube building covered in black cloth and wrapped in Arabic writing in golden silk.
The hajj, which began on Wednesday, is one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime.