MINA/ MAKKAH - Marking the beginning of the annual pilgrimage of Hajj on Sunday, a total of 60,000 pilgrims have started their lifetime spiritual journey by converging on the tent city of Mina since morning.

Chanting the talbiyah “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik (O God, here I am answering your call)...,” the men pilgrims, in seamless white ihram clothes and women pilgrims in abayas, streamed into the enormous tent city, located 7 km northeast of the Grand Mosque.

The tent city is reverberating with the talbiyah of pilgrims who make final preparations for their standing (wuqoof) on the plains of Arafat on Monday, marking the climax of Hajj. The Saudi authorities have readied a meticulously designed and flawless operation plan for the movement of pilgrims to Arafat.

The pilgrims, following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), will spend today, called Tarwiyah Day, engaged in supplications for the expiation of their sins. They pray Dhuhr, Asr, Maghreb, and Isha shortening their four-unit prayers so as to make them two units each, without combining them. The pilgrims spend the night of the Tarwiyah Day in Mina. After performing the dawn (Fajr) prayer on Monday, Dhul Hijjah 9, pilgrims move toward Arafat chanting the talbiyah and takbeer (glorifying Allah). In Arafat, they offer Dhuhr and Asr prayers together at the time of Dhuhr, shortening each one into two units.

The Hajj pilgrims streamed out of the holy city of Makkah and into the Mina valley on Sunday, launching the rituals of the great pilgrimage which Saudi Arabia is holding in a scaled-down form for a second year.

Since Saturday, groups of pilgrims have been performing the "tawaf" at Makkah Grand Mosque, circling the Kaaba, a large cubic structure draped in golden-embroidered black cloth towards which Muslims around the world pray. After that, they have been making their way to Mina, where they will spend the night. Mina sits in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains, some five kilometres (three miles) from the Grand Mosque, and is transformed each year into a vast encampment for pilgrims.

Pilgrims were brought there Sunday on buses which were only half-filled to respect social distancing rules, and authorities provided 3,000 electric cars to transport the elderly and those with limited mobility. "We have applied social distancing  inside the camps where there are four pilgrims in each room. We have put barriers between each bed to apply social distancing," tour operator Hadi Fouad said.

"For the common areas at the camp, like the prayer area and the cafeteria, we have assigned a security company whose guards are spread throughout the camp to make sure there is no crowding."

Golden ticket

In the high point of the hajj, worshippers will on Monday climb Mount Arafat. Also known as the "Mount of Mercy", it is the site where it is believed that the Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon. Worshippers will undertake hours of prayers and Quran recitals there.