On Sunday, pilgrims poured into the Mina Valley from the holy city of Mecca, starting the second year of the great pilgrimage ceremony held in reduced form in Saudi Arabia.
Only 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the Kingdom were allowed to participate, which is a far cry from the crowds that flock to Mecca during the normal period when the ceremony attracted as many as 2.5 million pilgrims.
Since Saturday, a group of pilgrims have been performing “tawaf” at the Mecca Mosque, surrounding the Kaaba, which is a large cubic structure covered with golden embroidered black cloth, and Muslims all over the world pray to it.
After that, they went to Mina and stayed overnight. Mina is located in a narrow valley surrounded by Rocky Mountains, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Great Mosque, and turns into a huge pilgrim camp every year.
On Sunday, in order to comply with social distancing rules, pilgrims were taken there in a bus with only half of the passengers, and the authorities provided 3,000 electric vehicles to transport the elderly and people with reduced mobility.
“We have implemented social distancing measures in camps where there are four pilgrims in each room. We set up barriers between each bed to maintain social distancing,” Hadi Fuad, a tour operator, told AFP.
“For the public areas of the camp, such as the prayer area and cafeteria, we have assigned a security company with guards distributed throughout the camp to ensure that there is no overcrowding.”
At the highest point of the Hajj, worshippers will climb Mount Arafat on Monday.
Also known as the “Mountain of Mercy”, it is believed to be the last place where the Prophet Muhammad preached. Believers will be there for hours of prayer and Quran recitation.
After descending the mountain the next day, they will collect pebbles and perform a symbolic “stone smashing the devil”.
Has been unable to execute #pilgrimage Last year, this #Hajj2021 The pilgrims thank God for making him one of the few pilgrims to undertake the annual Islamic pilgrimage this year. #FacesOfHajj #InPeaceAndSecurity pic.twitter.com/rnPnOrIfdg
-Hajj 1442 (@HajjMedia) July 18, 2021
Hajj is usually one of the largest annual religious gatherings in the world. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims must be able to conduct it at least once in their lives.
The scale of this year’s pilgrimage is larger than that of the streamlined version in 2020, but much smaller than in previous years. This has caused dissatisfaction with overseas Muslims who are once again barred from entering the country.
Participants were selected from more than 558,000 applicants through an online review system, and the event was limited to fully vaccinated adults 18-65 years old and without chronic diseases.
The 18-year-old Saudi Abdulaziz bin Mahmoud (Abdulaziz bin Mahmoud) said: “I thank God that we were approved, although we did not expect it because of the small number of pilgrims.”
Saddaf Ghafour, a 40-year-old Pakistani woman traveling with friends, was one of the women who went on the pilgrimage without a male “guardian,” which has only recently become a requirement.
“It is an honor to have a hajj among a very limited number of pilgrims,” she said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has reported at least 462,000 cases of the virus, including 7,500 deaths.
According to the World Health Organization, it has received approximately 15.4 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine. The kingdom has a population of more than 30 million.
Hajj usually crowds a large number of people into crowded religious places, which may be a super spreader of the virus.
But the Ministry of Hajj said that in light of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants, it is taking “the highest level of health precautions.”
Crowds of pilgrims arrived in Mina on Tarwiyah, the eighth day of the Islamic month and the beginning of their pilgrimage.
— 𝗛 July 18, 2021
The pilgrims were divided into groups of only 20 people, “to limit contact with only 20 people and thus limit the spread of infection,” said Deputy Minister Mohammad al-Bijawi.
In addition to strict social distancing measures, the authorities have also introduced “smart hajj cards” that allow contactless access to camps, hotels, and buses to transport pilgrims around religious sites.
The Hajj was held last year on the smallest scale in modern history.
Authorities initially stated that only 1,000 pilgrims were allowed to participate, although local media said as many as 10,000 eventually participated.
Speaking of this year’s preventive measures, Sari Asiri, Director of the Hajj and Umrah Department of the Ministry of Health, said: “The public health team monitors the health of pilgrims around the clock after they arrive in Mecca.”
He added that anyone found to be infected will be sent to an isolation facility.