Saudi Arabia to organise this year's Hajj under anti-virus curbs
Every year, millions of Muslims usually perform the Hajj pilgrimage, a key Islamic pillar. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the kingdom last year only allowed a limited number of Saudis and foreign Muslims already residing in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj.
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
The Saudi Ministry of Hajj announced the monarchy's intention to hold the pilgrimage under strict health, security and organisational measures to protect pilgrims and ensure rituals took place in a "safe environment", the country's state news agency SPA reported.
The exact rules for this year's Hajj will be announced later, the ministry said. "Health agencies in the kingdom continue to evaluate and take all necessary measures," it said.
In December, Saudi Arabia started mass vaccinations against COVID-19. More than 10 million doses have since been administered in the oil-wealthy country.
One of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj is a mandatory duty for all Muslims to complete once in a lifetime, if they have the financial and physical means to do so.
During the Hajj, pilgrims perform the same rituals in a demonstration of religious unity, equality and pursuit of spiritual renewal. (dpa)