Final days of hajj and Eid festival impacted by coronavirus
Small groups of people performed one of the final rites of the Islamic hajj on Friday as Muslims worldwide marked the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday amid a global pandemic that has impacted nearly every aspect of this year's pilgrimage and celebrations.
The last days of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia coincide with the four-day Eid al-Adha, or "Feast of Sacrifice," in which Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.
The pandemic has pushed millions of people around the world closer to the brink of poverty, making it harder for many to fulfil the religious tradition of purchasing livestock.
In Somalia, the price of meat has slightly increased. Abdishakur Dahir, a civil servant in Mogadishu, said that for the first time he won't be able to afford goat for Eid because of the impact of the virus on work. "I could hardly buy food for my family," Dahir said. "We are just surviving for now. Life is getting tougher by the day."
In some parts of West Africa, the price for a ram has doubled. Livestock sellers, used to doing brisk business in the days before the holiday, say sales have dwindled. "The situation is really complicated by the coronavirus, it's a tough market," Oumar Maiga, a livestock trader in Ivory Coast said. "We are in a situation we've never seen in other years." The hajj pilgrimage has also been drastically impacted by the virus. Last year, some 2.5 million pilgrims took part, but this year it was limited to as few as 1,000 already residing in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Health Ministry said there have been no cases of the COVID-19 illness among this year's pilgrims. Government precautions included testing pilgrims for the virus, monitoring their movement with electronic wristbands and requiring them to quarantine before and after. Pilgrims were selected after applying through an online portal, and all had to be between 20 and 50 years of age.
The hajj in a time of pandemic
In a normal year, millions of Muslims flock to Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage. But with COVID-19 still a global threat, only a few thousand have been allowed to make the journey this year, and those that were allowed to travel, have to abide by a set of strict rules.
Ahead of this year's hajj, the most important pilgrimage for Muslims, crews at the Grand Mosque were busy with more than just the usual cleaning and maintenance work. To keep people at a distance from each other and avoid spreading the virus, strips of tape have been stuck to the ground around the Kaaba, Islam's most sacred site, showing people where to walk
This year, pilgrims at the Grand Mosque are required to keep the prescribed distance from each other, circling the sanctuary counter clockwise seven times while staying at least 1.5 metres from the next pilgrim. They are also strictly forbidden to touch the Kaaba
Wearing face masks, these security officers have set an example for the pilgrims chosen to participate in the 2020 hajj. The pilgrims chosen are all either Saudi nationals or foreigners living in Saudi Arabia; arrivals by plane weren't allowed this year. Saudi Arabia has been severely affected by the pandemic, with more than 270,000 infections reported as of late July and around 3,000 to 4,000 new cases every day
Faithful Muslims are obliged to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lives, as long as they are healthy and of age and "if they find a possibility to do so", according to the Quran (surah 3, verse 97). The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Pictured here: Muslim pilgrims wear protective masks on their way to the Meeqaat
The ritual stoning of Satan at Mina, near Mecca, is part of the hajj pilgrimage. Here too, people must keep their distance. The pilgrims also receive disinfected stones for the ritual, a prayer rug and hand sanitiser
Since 1999, between 1 and 3 million Muslims have thronged to Mecca every year for the hajj. This year, however, crowds were more manageable — only 10,000 people were allowed to attend. Participants were chosen in an online process. Their temperature was checked upon arrival in Mecca, and they were quarantined for two weeks
In 2018, more than 2 million Muslims made the journey to Mecca, with many staying in this tent city in Mina. In addition to its religious significance, the hajj is also an economic event: past pilgrimages have netted Saudi Arabia more than €10 billion ($11.8 billion) annually. In Mecca and the surrounding area, hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on the event
Just after dawn on Friday, small groups – masked and physically distancing – made their way towards the massive, multi-storey Jamarat Complex in the Saudi valley area of Mina. There, the pilgrims cast pebbles at three large columns. It is here where Muslims believe the devil tried to talk the Prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham, out of submitting to God's will.
Muslims commemorate Ibrahim's test of faith by slaughtering livestock and animals and distributing the meat to the poor. During the last days of hajj, male pilgrims shave their heads and remove the terrycloth white garments worn during the pilgrimage. Women cut off a small lock of hair in a sign of spiritual rebirth and renewal. The hajj, both physically and spiritually demanding, intends to bring about greater humility and unity and is required of all Muslims to perform once in a lifetime. (AP)