Downsized, Hajj 2020 begins in Saudi Arabia

Clay Curtis
July 30, 2020

But this year, the Saudi government is covering the expenses of all pilgrims, providing them with meals, hotel accommodation and health care, worshippers said.

The pilgrims, who have all been tested for the virus, are required to wear masks and observe social distancing during "tawaf".

The Kaaba, a large cube-like structure in Mecca's Grand Mosque is seen by Muslims as the most sacred point on Earth.

Pilgrims have been given electronic wristbands to allow authorities to monitor their whereabouts when they are quarantined, with Ali calling it a "precautionary measure".

"There are some rituals of Hajj that we can not really separate [the pilgrims] because they have to be in one place at one time, so we had to prepare these places in a way that maintains social distancing and also to make available the personal protective equipment for these places", Dr. Assiri said.

They also reported setting up multiple health facilities, mobile clinics and ambulances to cater to the pilgrims.

Saudi hajj authorities initially said around 1,000 pilgrims would be allowed this year, but local media later said as many as 10,000 were picked.

After offering pre-dawn prayers, they will proceed to the plains of Arafat on Thursday for the main ritual of Hajj -reciting prayers.

Pilgrims leaving after circumambulating around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the centre of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, at the start of the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage, July 29, 2020.

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"I did not expect, among millions of Muslims, to be blessed with approval", Emirati pilgrim Abdullah Al-Kathiri said in a video released by the Saudi media ministry.

Here, the first group of female pilgrims pray in the Grand Mosque. Thirty per cent of them are Saudi citizens while the remaining seventy per cent are foreign nationals residing in the kingdom.

The hajj ministry has fielded a deluge of anguished queries on Twitter from rejected applicants.

But Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten insisted the process was transparent, telling the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television that "health determinants" formed the basis of selection.

Saudi Arabia has banned worldwide visitors from making the journey to Mecca, to try to curb the pandemic.

This year's downsized hajj may prove to be the safest ever despite the ever-present threat posed by the novel coronavirus.

The government scaled back the pilgrimage due to fears that it could be a major source of contagion. Worldwide flights to and from Saudi Arabia have been suspended since March.

Saudi officials have built a camp to isolate worshipers diagnosed with COVID-19 while security at Mount Arafat will be provided for pilgrims who arrive at the holy location.

In March, Riyadh suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage, as the number of global coronavirus cases continued to climb.

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