Saudia Arabia held its annual Hajj pilgrimage performed by Muslims with a strikingly sparse crowd this year from 28 July to August 2 amid the growing COVID-19 outbreak. The pilgrimage that usually attracts some two million people from all the countries every year scaled down to merely thousands of worshippers.
The country announced its plan for a “very limited” Hajj instead of entirely canceling Islam’s most significant pilgrimage which had been a potential option. As per their statement, the decision comes following the rapid spurge in cases of coronavirus across the globe, the lack of an available vaccine, and the risk of contamination due to social gathering. Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten disclosed that the overall pilgrims won’t be in tens of thousands this year.
“This decision is taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols to protect human beings from the risks associated with this pandemic and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving the lives of human beings,” the official statement read.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which obligates physically and financially sound Muslims to attend the sacred pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. Worshippers permitted this year were foreign residents or nationals of Saudia Arabia between the ages of 20 and 50. They had to quarantine at their homes and the hotels before and after the six-day long Islamic pilgrimage commenced.
According to the Saudi authorities, mask-clad worshippers were required to maintain social distancing at Kaaba’s site – a rectangular structure covered in black built in the center of the mosque – that the devotee’s circle during the visit and where they face during their prayers. The circle of Kaaba was lined for easy physical distancing instead of the normal shoulder-to-shoulder that happens every year. There were gaps that separated the worshipper’s rug during congregational prayers in an attempt to establish “safety bubbles” for everyone present. Hajjis were provided with free hygiene products for a hazard-free environment.
The lower turnout has been one of the first’s in the history of Hajj. Previously the count in worshippers took a massive hit due to armed conflicts – a sect of minorities from the Shiite community raided Hajj believing it to be a pagan ritual, political disputes – caused due to the war between Baghdad and Egypt, diseases – multiple outbreaks of Cholera, bubonic plagues, etc.
Saudi Arabia’s economy also plunged due to the scaled-back admittance. Hajj is ranked as the second-largest revenue generator for the country, earning USD 8 Billion annually. The probable loss would be borne by the government as well as private hotels and the tourism sector.
After the announcement of Hajj in limited numbers, Saudi Arabia banned the entry of international travelers for the pilgrimage. However, the uptick of cases made countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, and India prohibit their pilgrims from traveling. A live broadcast was set for the millions who missed the spiritual journey.