This year’s Hajj pilgrimage that has been scaled down to include only 1000 Muslim pilgrims is scheduled to start on July 29 (Wednesday) amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As per the records around 2.5 million people from all over the world usually take part in the ritual which is performed in the holy city of Mecca. The timing of the Hajj is determined by the lunar calendar and position of the moon. This annual pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam. The stand of pilgrims on Mount Arafat the peak of the Hajj ritual falls on July 30 (Thursday) indicating that July 29 would be the first day of the annual event.
This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has restricted participation in the pilgrimage. Between 2014 and 2016 Muslims from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and several other African countries were restricted to visit due to Ebola. Apart from holding a religious significance Hajj provides employment to the local people. According to Mecca's chamber of commerce Hajj generates between $5.3 billion and $6.9 billion for the local economy. The Hajj and the lesser Umrah pilgrimage attract millions of Muslims from around the world and together bring in some $12 billion a year to the country. A scaled-down pilgrimage is expected to incur a major loss of revenue to the kingdom that is already dealing with twin shocks of the virus-induced slowdown and plunge in oil prices.
Health protocols for pilgrims
This year hajj will be held under strict hygiene protocols with access limited to pilgrims under 65 years of age and without any chronic diseases. The ritual has been restricted to medical professionals and security personnel who have recovered from the virus. Pilgrims taking part would be tested for coronavirus before arriving in Mecca and are also required to quarantine at home after the ritual. The pilgrimage is restricted to 1,00 people who are already in the kingdom.
The decision to exclude pilgrims arriving from outside Saudi Arabia has sparked disappointment among Muslims worldwide though many accepted it as it is a necessary step due to the ongoing global health crisis. Saudi Arabia has seen a rise in both confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 after lifting the restrictions in late May. It has yet to restore international air links. Saudi Arabia has recorded 2,68,934 cases so far including 2,760 deaths - highest toll among the Arab Gulf states.
Annual Muslim ritual of Hajj that attracts millions of people from across the globe would be holding a low-key event due to coronavirus pandemic. The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced the decision to curtail the pilgrimage to preserve the global public health due to the risk associated with large gatherings. Hajj is the annual pilgrimage made by Muslims to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. It takes place during Dhu al-Hijjah which is the final month of the Islamic calendar. The pilgrimage lasts for about 5-6 days depending on the lunar Islamic calendar. In Islamic terminology Hajj is a pilgrimage made to the Kaaba the "House of God". The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to God (Allah). This is the holiest site in Islam and symbolises the oneness of God.
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