Hajj pilgrimage begins in Mecca amid COVID-19 restrictions, unsure future | CBC Information

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Tens of 1000’s of vaccinated Muslim pilgrims circled Islam’s holiest web site in Mecca on Sunday however remained bodily distanced and wore masks because the coronavirus takes its toll on the hajj for a second yr operating.

What as soon as drew some 2.5 million Muslims from all walks of life from throughout the globe, the hajj pilgrimage is now virtually unrecognizable in scale.

The pared-down hajj of this yr and final because of the COVID-19 outbreak impacts not solely the flexibility of individuals outdoors Saudi Arabia to fulfil the Islamic obligation but in addition the billions of {dollars} yearly that Saudi Arabia attracts from being custodian of its holy websites.

The Islamic pilgrimage lasts about 5 days, however historically Muslims start arriving in Mecca weeks forward of time. The hajj concludes with the Eid al-Adha celebration, marked by the distribution of meat to the poor around the globe.

This yr, simply 60,000 vaccinated Saudi residents or residents of Saudi Arabia have been allowed to carry out the hajj as a consequence of continued considerations across the unfold of the coronavirus. It is a far better determine than final yr’s largely symbolic hajj that noticed fewer than 1,000 folks from throughout the kingdom collaborating.

With no clear or agreed-upon normal for a vaccine passport, vastly uneven vaccine inoculation charges and new variants of the virus threatening the progress already made in some nations, it is unclear when Saudi Arabia will play host once more to the hundreds of thousands extra Muslim pilgrims it deliberate to obtain in years to come back.

The dominion’s Al Saud rulers have staked their legitimacy largely on their custodianship of hajj websites, giving them a singular and highly effective platform globally amongst Muslims. The dominion has gone to nice lengths to make sure the annual hajj continues uninterrupted, regardless of modifications brought on by the pandemic.

Security measures in place

Robots have been deployed to spray sanitizing disinfectant across the cube-shaped Kaaba’s busiest walkways. It’s right here the place the hajj pilgrimage begins and ends for many.

Saudi Arabia can also be testing a wise bracelet this yr in collaboration with the federal government’s synthetic intelligence authority. The touchscreen bracelet, which resembles the Apple Watch, contains info on the hajj, the pilgrim’s oxygen ranges and vaccine information and has an emergency characteristic to name for assist.

Worldwide media shops already current within the kingdom have been permitted to cowl the hajj from Mecca this yr, however others weren’t granted permission to fly in as had been customary earlier than the pandemic.

Cleaners are sanitizing the huge white marble areas of the Grand Mosque that home the Kaaba a number of occasions a day.

“We’re sanitizing the ground and utilizing disinfection liquids whereas cleansing it two or thrice throughout [each] shift,” mentioned Olis Gul, a cleaner who mentioned he has been working in Mecca for 20 years.

A pilgrim prays at his tent camp in Mina, close to the Muslim holy metropolis of Mecca, on Sunday. (Amr Nabil/The Related Press)

The hajj is one in every of Islam’s most vital necessities to be carried out as soon as in a lifetime. It follows a route the Prophet Muhammad walked almost 1,400 years in the past and is believed to in the end hint the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they’re named within the Bible.

The hajj is seen as an opportunity to wipe clear previous sins and produce about better unity amongst Muslims. The communal feeling of greater than two million folks from around the globe — Shiite, Sunni and different Muslim sects — praying collectively, consuming collectively and repenting collectively has lengthy been a part of what makes hajj each a difficult and transformative expertise.

Communal expertise downsized

There are questions round whether or not the hajj will have the ability to once more draw such massive numbers of trustworthy, with male pilgrims forming a sea of white in terrycloth clothes worn to represent the equality of mankind earlier than God and ladies forgoing make-up and fragrance to focus inwardly.

Like final yr, pilgrims shall be consuming water from the holy Zamzam properly in packaged plastic bottles. Pilgrims may also have to hold their very own prayer rugs and should observe a strict schedule by way of a cell app that informs them of when they are often in sure areas to keep away from crowding.

“I hope this can be a profitable hajj season,” mentioned Egyptian pilgrim Aly Aboulnaga, a college lecturer in Saudi Arabia. “We ask God to just accept everybody’s hajj and for the world to be open to better numbers of pilgrims and for a return to an excellent higher scenario than earlier than.”

Previous to the outbreak of COVID-19, the dominion was working to vastly broaden Mecca’s means to host pilgrims with a $60-billion US Grand Mosque enlargement. On the mosque’s south aspect stands the 600-metre clock-tower skyscraper, a part of a accomplished seven-tower advanced that was constructed to accommodate high-end paying pilgrims.

The dominion, with a inhabitants of greater than 30 million, has reported over half 1,000,000 circumstances of COVID-19, together with greater than 8,000 deaths. It has administered almost 20 million doses of vaccines, based on the World Well being Group.

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