Dhu al-Hijjah, or the “month of pilgrimage” on the Islamic calendar, began yesterday, July 22, officially marking the start of one of the five pillars of Islam: the annual Hajj. Typically during this time, millions of Muslims from around the world travel to the holy city of Mecca and embark on a weeklong pilgrimage, which retraces the journey Prophet Muhammad made more than 1,000 years ago. This year, as a precaution against the further spread of Covid-19 in the region, Saudi authorities have dramatically reduced the number of pilgrims permitted inside the holy city to no more than 10,000 and have only limited it to worshippers who are already living inside the Kingdom. Although foreign visitors are not able to perform Hajj this year, Saudi residents from 160 different nationalities will soon begin this holy pilgrimage from July 29 until August 2. The safety of these pilgrims as they perform the Hajj rituals is “top priority” and a strict set of health and safety measures have been instated to protect them “from risks associated with this pandemic and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving the lives of human beings,” shared the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in a statement.
— Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@KSAmofaEN) June 22, 2020
As Saudi Arabia prepares for a Hajj unlike any other in the recent past, read on for all the protocols the Kingdom’s National Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has issued to help keep worshippers safe and secure during this extraordinary time.
Pilgrims will be required to undergo coronavirus testing as well as a seven-day isolation period before and after they have performed Hajj. Face masks and proper social distancing are mandatory while performing all the rites of Hajj and during group prayers. Hand sanitizers will be readily distributed and pilgrims are advised against sharing personal items, such as protective equipment, clothing, towels, and mobile devices. The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah have reportedly sent individual bags to each pilgrim with various necessities, such as face and eye masks, sanitizer, shaving tools, a prayer rug, a Hajj guidebook in addition to the garments and stones to be worn and used during the rituals. Additional bathrooms have been instated to prevent unnecessary crowding and floor stickers have been placed along ablution areas to help pilgrims maintain a safe distance from one another. Personal contact and close gatherings should overall be avoided as much as possible while in Mecca.
Only those with a permit will be allowed to enter the holy sites until the end of Hajj and those who violate this rule will face a fine of at least SAR 10,000. A pre-assigned bus and seat number for each person will remain the same throughout the entire pilgrimage with at least one empty seat allocated between passengers so the final number of pilgrims per bus does not exceed 50 percent of its total capacity. Disinfectants will also be installed in each compartment to encourage frequent sanitization.
Food and beverages
Pre-packaged meals and single-use water bottles will be provided to each pilgrim to prevent outside food from being brought inside the holy city. Regarding Zamzam water specifically, pilgrims are not permitted to use their own containers at the coolers and must abide by the socially distant floor stickers to minimize waiting in close proximity. Hand sanitizers will also be easily accessible in all food-designated areas.
While performing the rites
Pilgrims must not stray from the routes and places specifically outlined along the designated path at any time. While at Mina, no more than 10 pilgrims are allowed per 50sqm of the tent area with a space of at least 1.5m between tents. During the stone-throwing ritual of Jamarat, a maximum of 50 pilgrims with proper social distancing can partake at once and they will be handed pre-sanitized stones in a sealed bag. When performing Tawaf, pilgrims will once again adhere to a distance of 1.5m and all floors of the Great Mosque will be accessible to accommodate this. Touching and kissing the Kaaba will not be possible this year and protective barriers will be placed around the sacred stone to ensure this. Specific entry and exit points will also be appointed to help curb overcrowding.