This Year’s ‘Hajj’ Could be Limited to Just 1,000 Saudis, Top Official Says
Muhammad Benten, Saudi Arabia’s minister for pilgrimage affairs, says this year’s hajj, scheduled to begin toward the end of July, might be limited to as few as 1,000 pilgrims, all of them from the kingdom. “The number, God willing, might be in the thousands. We are in the process of reviewing, so it could be 1,000 or less, or a little more,” Benten stated on Tuesday during a video conference with journalists. In most years, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca attracts some 2.5 million people, about 80% of them from outside Saudi Arabia. This year, however, the holiest city in Islam has been closed off even to Saudi Muslims due to the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this week, the kingdom lifted a nightly curfew that had been in effect for about three months in just about the entire country. Saudi Arabia has seen just over 161,000 coronavirus infections and, as of Monday, 1,307 deaths that can be attributed to the pandemic. According to officials, those attending this year’s hajj will be required to undergo quarantine both before and after the pilgrimage. In addition, no one above the age of 65 will be allowed to take part. “This is a very sensitive operation and we are working with experts at the Health Ministry,” Benten told journalists.