Who Can Attend This Year’s Hajj?
Islam’s sacred pilgrimage will be limited to 60,000 people already present in the kingdom
Until relatively modern times, the journey to Mecca was fraught with danger. Bands of armed thieves roamed the pathways to Mecca and natural disasters were rife, with pilgrims frequently succumbing to thirst and hunger on the long journey to Islam’s holiest city.
Plague broke out almost every year until 1918.
Now, for the second year running, the road to Mecca is once more barred to most, but because of a new disease: COVID-19. The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced that this year’s hajj, which will run from the evening of July 17 to the evening of July 22, will be limited to 60,000 residents of the kingdom between the ages of 18 and 65.
For comparison, more than 2.4 million of the faithful made the hajj pilgrimage in 2019.
“It was decided to limit the availability of registration for those wishing to perform the hajj rituals for the year 1442 AH [in the year of the Hijra] to citizens and residents inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia only,” the ministry said.
“Given the nature of the crowds during the hajj, which extends at different times in different and specific places according to the order of performing the rituals,” significantly limiting the number of pilgrims in attendance was the only way to ensure that proceedings may continue, government officials decided.
In 2020, only 10,000 pilgrims were permitted to attend the hajj, providing that they maintained social distancing. Attendance was restricted to healthy Saudi residents between the ages of 20 and 50 who had no COVID-19 symptoms. Seventy percent were foreigners living in the kingdom.
This year, the age restriction was expanded to encompass Muslims between the ages of 18 and 65, but all pilgrims must either be fully vaccinated, vaccinated with one dose and have undergone a 14-day isolation period, or recovered from an infection.
Pilgrims will be required by law to travel in groups of 20, each group under the charge of a government escort. A spokesman for the ministry, Hesham Saeed, explained that each escort will act “as a health leader to offer guidance and verify implementation of precautionary measures during all the movements of the pilgrims.”
Saudi authorities have implemented a number of measures to ensure that everything runs according to COVID regulations. In this vein, they have allocated 25 tracks along which pilgrims can walk around the Kaaba – the building at the center of the Great Mosque of Mecca (Masjid al-Haram), Islam’s most important mosque − without the usual colliding masses of individuals.
The hajj pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, one which every adult Muslim who is physically and financially able must perform at least once during his or her lifetime. The pilgrimage includes various rituals and customary practices for a period of five or six days. Among these rituals is the widely known practice of circling the Kaaba seven times in a counter-clockwise direction.
The hajj is modeled on the Prophet Muhammad’s “Farewell Pilgrimage” of the year 632 and is believed by Muslims to cleanse them of their sins and strengthen their connection to God. The rituals carried out by pilgrims are imitations of Muhammad’s actions during his pilgrimage, as recorded by his followers.
The umrah, meaning “to visit a populated place,” is a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of the year, unlike the hajj which must occur in accordance with the Islamic lunar cycle. The Saudi government is allowing umrah to be carried out by limited groups of overseas residents, if they apply through the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah app.
Aron Rosenthal is a student at the University of Edinburgh and an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.
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