News ID: 92599
Publish Date : 18 July 2021 - 22:01

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (Dispatches) -- Muslim pilgrims vaccinated against COVID-19 gathered on Sunday for the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, which has barred worshippers from abroad for a second year running due to the pandemic and has also restricted entry from inside the kingdom.
Clad in white and carrying umbrellas against the blistering summer sun, 60,000 Saudi citizens and residents are performing the rite, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, compared with some 2.5 million in 2019.
“I ask God to end the coronavirus, it made us very scared and made the situation very difficult,” said Palestinian pilgrim Hassan Jabari.
Saudi Arabia, which last year allowed a few thousand to perform the hajj, is home to Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, but because its mismanagement, the sacred event has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.
The kingdom, with a population of more than 30 million, has reported over half a million cases of the coronavirus, including more than 8,000 deaths.
Robots are being used to disinfect the Grand Mosque in Mecca and its courtyard and also to distribute bottles of zamzam water, pumped from a holy well in Mecca, to reduce human interaction and ensure physical distancing.
Thermal cameras at entrances to the Grand Mosque monitor people’s temperatures. Around 3,000 electric carts have been provided for pilgrims, who also wear electronic identification bracelets connected to GPS.
Small groups of pilgrims wearing masks have since Saturday been circling the Kaaba - a stone structure that is the most sacred in Islam and the direction which Muslims face to pray - as health professionals monitor their movements.
The pilgrims then made their way to Mina, 7 km northeast of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, where they will spend the day in prayer before heading to Mount Arafat, where Prophet Muhammad (Peace upon Him) gave his last sermon.
The Islamic pilgrimage lasts about five days, but traditionally Muslims begin arriving in Mecca weeks ahead of time. The hajj concludes with the Eid al-Adha celebration, marked by the distribution of meat to the poor around the world.
The pared down hajj of this year and last due to the COVID-19 outbreak not only impacts the ability of people outside Saudi Arabia to fulfill the Islamic obligation but also the billions of dollars annually that Saudi Arabia draws from being custodian of its holy sites.
The kingdom’s Al Saud rulers have tried to stake “legitimacy” in large part on their custodianship of hajj sites, giving them a unique and powerful platform globally among Muslims.

The hajj is one of Islam’s most important requirements to be performed once in a lifetime. It follows a route Prophet Muhammad walked nearly 1,400 years ago and is believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail.
The hajj is seen as a chance to wipe clean past sins and bring about greater unity among Muslims. The communal feeling of more than 2 million people from around the world — Shia, Sunni and other Muslim sects — praying together, eating together and repenting together has long been part of what makes hajj a transformative experience.
Male pilgrims form a sea of white in white terrycloth garments worn to symbolize the equality of mankind before God and women forgoing makeup and perfume to focus inwardly.

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