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Saudi Arabia Resumes Limited ‘Umrah’ Pilgrimage
This October 4 aerial photo shows ‘Umrah’ pilgrims trickling into the Grand Mosque complex in Mecca after a seven-month coronavirus hiatus. (AFP via Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia Resumes Limited ‘Umrah’ Pilgrimage

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have given the green light for the Umrah, the year-round pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest cities. As of midnight between Saturday and Sunday, the pilgrimage was declared open, though only to residents of the kingdom, with a ceiling of 6,000 per day, or about 30% capacity. Authorities ceased all Umrah activities last spring after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, and at the end of July allowed only a symbolic Hajj, the annual pilgrimage known to attract over 2 million people and considered a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for pious followers of the faith. The kingdom will open its doors to Umrah pilgrims coming from abroad starting on November 1. It is estimated that close to 20 million people make the broader pilgrimage each year. The pandemic has thus affected the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Saudis who cater to the needs of pilgrims through lodging, food service, souvenirs or transportation, directly or indirectly. Religious pilgrimages to the kingdom are said to generate about $12 billion each year. Pilgrims participating in the ritual circling of the Kaaba, the large stone structure at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, are forbidden from touching it and must wear facemasks and practice social distancing while at the site.

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