Mask-clad Muslims begin downsized Hajj
PIC: AFP

Pilgrims, donning face masks and moving in small groups after days in isolation, began arriving to Islam's holiest site in Mecca on Wednesday for the start of a historically unique and scaled-down hajj experience reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic.

The hajj is one of Islam's most important and profound requirements, performed once in a lifetime.

The hajj, both physically and spiritually demanding, is intended to bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims.

But rather than standing and praying shoulder-to-shoulder in a sea of people from different walks of life, pilgrims this year are social distancing - standing apart and moving in small groups of 20 to limit exposure and the potential transmission of the coronavirus.

While the experience will be starkly different, it remains an opportunity for pilgrims to wipe clean past sins, deepen their faith and fullfil one of Islam's five pillars.

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