Unprecedented Hajj begins with only 1,000 pilgrims

Photo via CNN

Mecca, Saudi Arabia — Unprecendented Hajj begins in Mecca with only 1,000 pilgrims rather than the usual 2 million.

Due to the concerns over the ongoing pandemic, Islam’s most important annual pilgrimage got underway with just a small fraction of its regular number of worshippers.

The new crowd control restrictions placed by Saudi Arabia allows only upto 1,000 pilgrims to perform Hajj this year. Previously the holy sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina would normally host more than 2 million people during the pilgrimage.

For the first time in decades the international travelers have been barred from the Hajj. For precautions only those who are in the age of between 20-50 were selected to take part in the pilgrimage. Among those who were selected, approximately 70% of the worshippers this year were foreign residents of Saudi Arabia, with the rest being Saudi nationals.

The country with the highest number of Covid-19 infections in the Arab world has called the pilgrimage of this year “unprecedented.”

Saudi authorities had previously hinted that the annual pilgrimage, one of Islam’s five major pillars, could be canceled, calling on potential pilgrims to put their plans on hold.

“Hajj in 2020 is a truly exceptional pilgrimage by all measures,” Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten said, according to a statement by the kingdom’s media ministry.

“Due to the exceptional global health circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic, strict precautionary measures have been applied to ensure a healthy Hajj for all pilgrims.”

According to the authorities, the pilgrims performing Hajj this year have undergone a rigorous selection process and that they were required to go through periods of self-isolation before arriving in the holy cities. The media ministry says that the pilgrims are expected to quarantine after their arrival and upon their return as well.

“This is a very special situation we find ourselves in,” said Kehinde Qasim Yusuf, an Australian pilgrim at this year’s Hajj. “We also have the privilege to perform Hajj on behalf of the entire Muslim world.”

The Hajj is one of the biggest religious gatherings in the world. It occurs during the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah – two months and 10 days after the Islamic month Ramadan ends.