The world’s largest religious service will look unlike it has ever before. Hajj – the religious pilgrimage for Muslims in Saudi Arabia – will be dramatically scaled back with added social distancing measures this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, 2.5 million visitors were recorded participating in the pilgrimage but this year, only up to 1,000 people will be able to participate. The ritual, which typically draws religious visitors from all over the world, this year only welcomes those who reside within Saudi Arabia.
All those participating will be required to quarantine both before and after the six day event. Social distancing measures will be followed throughout the pilgrimage and participants must wear face masks at all times.
In a statement put out by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, the Kingdom cited that its top priority is “to always enable Muslim pilgrims to perform Hajj and Umrah rites safely and securely.” The statement goes on to explain that the precautions taken include “suspending the entry of Umrah pilgrims while ensuring the safety of the pilgrims already present at the holy sites.”
The pilgrimage comes as the global number of coronavirus cases continues to climb and countries such as India and the US face their worst days of the pandemic. With nearly 273,000 cases, Saudi Arabia is the world’s 13th worst-hit country.
What Is Hajj?
Hajj is the sacred pilgrimage of Muslims that copies the pilgrimage taken by prophet Muhammed. Hajj is one of the five core beliefs and practices of Islam that Muslims must carry out in their life.
According to their belief, all Muslims who are healthy and financially stable must participate in the pilgrimage at least once in their life. The pilgrimage is centered around the Kaaba which means “cube” in Arabic. It is the most holy site for Muslims.
The Kaaba is a rectangular structure that Muslims face during their prayer, no matter where they are in the world. The Kaaba rests within the Grand Mosque of Mecca and Muslim pilgrims will pray towards and touch the Kaaba throughout their journey.