On July 16, 2021, on the eve of the Hajj, members of the Saudi security forces and staff perform Friday prayers in front of the Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam in the holy city of Mecca
Pilgrims began arriving in the holy city of Mecca on Saturday to participate in the second shrunken hajj held during the coronavirus pandemic. They wore masks and walked in the distance around the holiest place in Islam.
The kingdom allows only 60,000 fully vaccinated residents to participate, seeking to repeat last year’s success in the five-day ceremony that did not detect a virus outbreak.
After being loaded on a bus and taken to the Great Mosque in Mecca, the pilgrims began to perform “tawaf”, a circumambulation of the Kaaba, which is a large cubic structure covered with golden embroidered black cloth. Muslims around the world All pray to it.
Hisham al-Saeed, spokesperson for the Hajj Ministry, told AFP: “Every three hours, 6,000 people enter to perform the arrival ceremony.” “After each group leaves, they will undergo a disinfection process in the sanctuary.”
It consists of a series of religious ceremonies, which officially began on Sunday and completed in five days in the holiest city of Islam in western Saudi Arabia and its surrounding areas.
One of the people selected this year is Ameen, a 58-year-old Indian oil contractor based in the eastern city of Dammam, who was selected for the ceremony along with his wife and three adult children.
“Many of our friends and relatives have been rejected,” he told AFP.
Like other countries in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia is home to a large foreign population from South Asia, the Far East, Africa and the Middle East.
The 31-year-old told AFP: “This is a special and unforgettable moment in life. I thank God for giving me this opportunity and allowing me to be accepted by many applicants.”
According to the Ministry of Hajj, the campaign was selected from more than 558,000 applicants through an online review system, and was limited to those who have been fully vaccinated and are between 18-65 years of age and do not have chronic diseases.
To date, Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 507,000 coronavirus infections and more than 8,000 deaths.
The Hajj last year took place on the smallest scale in modern history. Authorities initially stated that only 1,000 pilgrims were allowed to participate, but local media said as many as 10,000 eventually participated.
– ‘the biggest challenge’ –
“The biggest challenge of this hajj season is to let it pass without any Covid-19 infection,” a doctor working in a hospital in Mecca told AFP by phone.
Presiding over the pilgrimage is related to the prestige of Saudi rulers. For them, the guardianship of the holiest site in Islam is the most powerful source of their political legitimacy.
The Ministry of Hajj received painful inquiries from rejected applicants on Twitter about the strictly controlled government lottery.
In addition to many virus-related obstacles, the cost of participating in this year’s Hajj (including official taxes and fees) is 12,000 riyals (3,200 US dollars).