What once attracted some 2.5 million Muslims from all walks of life around the world, the hajj pilgrimage is now almost unrecognizable in its magnitude.
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This year’s and last year’s reduced hajj due to the COVID-19 outbreak is not only impacting the ability of people outside of Saudi Arabia to fulfill the Islamic obligation, but also billions of dollars. that Saudi Arabia derives every year from being the guardian of its holy places.
The Islamic pilgrimage lasts about five days, but traditionally Muslims start arriving in Mecca weeks in advance. The hajj ends with the celebration of Eid al-Adha, marked by the distribution of meat to the poor around the world.
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This year, 60,000 vaccinated Saudi citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia have been allowed to perform the hajj due to lingering concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. This is a much higher number than the largely symbolic hajj of last year which saw less than 1,000 people from the kingdom participate.
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In the absence of a clear or agreed standard for a vaccine passport, vaccine inoculation rates are very uneven and new variants of the virus threaten the progress already made in some countries, it is not known when Saudi Arabia will welcome to again the millions of Muslim pilgrims that she planned to receive in the years to come.
The rulers of the Al Saud Kingdom have relied heavily on their legitimacy to guard hajj sites, giving them a unique and globally powerful platform among Muslims. The kingdom has gone to great lengths to ensure that the annual hajj continues uninterrupted, despite the changes caused by the pandemic.
Robots were deployed to spray disinfectant disinfectant around the Kaaba’s busiest cube-shaped aisles. This is where the hajj pilgrimage begins and most ends.
Saudi Arabia is also testing a smart bracelet this year in collaboration with the government’s artificial intelligence authority. The touchscreen bracelet looks like the Apple Watch and includes information about hajj, pilgrim’s oxygen levels, and vaccine data and has an emergency function to call for help.
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International media already in the kingdom have been allowed to cover the hajj from Mecca this year, but others have not been allowed to fly as was customary before the pandemic.
The cleaners disinfect the vast white marble spaces of the Great Mosque which houses the Kaaba several times a day.
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“We disinfect the floor and use disinfecting liquids while cleaning it two or three times during (each) shift,” said Olis Gul, a cleaner who said he had worked in Mecca for 20 years.
The hajj is one of the most important requirements in Islam to be fulfilled once in a lifetime. It follows a route traveled by the Prophet Muhammad nearly 1,400 years ago and is believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.
The hajj is seen as a chance to erase the sins of the past and to establish greater unity among Muslims.
The common sentiment of more than 2 million people around the world – Shiites, Sunnis and other Muslim sects – praying together, eating together and repenting together has long been part of what makes hajj both an empowering and transformative experience.
One wonders if the hajj will once again be able to attract such a large number of devotees, with male pilgrims forming a sea of white in white terrycloth clothes worn to symbolize humanity’s equality before God and women forgoing makeup. and perfume to concentrate inwards.
Like last year, pilgrims will drink water from the sacred well of Zamzam in wrapped plastic bottles. Pilgrims will also be required to wear their own prayer rugs, have been given umbrellas to protect them from the sun, and must follow a strict schedule via a mobile app that informs them when they can be in certain areas to avoid overcrowding.
“I hope the hajj season will be successful,” said Egyptian pilgrim Aly Aboulnaga, a university professor in Saudi Arabia. “We ask God to accept everyone’s hajj and that the area be opened to more pilgrims and for a return to an even better situation than before. “
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the kingdom was working to significantly expand Mecca’s capacity to accommodate pilgrims with a $ 60 billion Grand Mosque expansion. On the south side of the mosque stands the 1,972-foot (600-meter) clock tower skyscraper, which is part of a completed seven-tower complex that was built to accommodate high-paying pilgrims range.
The kingdom, with a population of over 30 million, has reported more than half a million cases of the coronavirus, including more than 8,000 deaths. He has administered nearly 20 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the World Health Organization.
– Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
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