MECCA | muslims selected for the hajj began on Wednesday, the great pilgrimage of Mecca, which is held this year in format very restricted and in respect of many health precautions because of the pandemic of sars coronavirus.
In small groups, led each by a guide, the faithful have begun the rites of the pilgrimage through the seven convolutions around the “Kabaa” in the heart of the Great mosque of Mecca, according to live images of television in saudi arabia.
Wearing a mask and keeping a distance from each other, those pilgrims have turned in single file around the cubical building towards which a muslim turns to the world for their prayers, under the watchful eye of police officers and other officials.
The contrast was striking between these small groups, lost in the middle of the huge mosque and the usual crowd of pilgrims who meet in a steady stream to the Grand mosque every year at the same time.
The foreign press has not been allowed this year to cover what is usually a media event in the world.
Ryad said that only a thousand of pilgrims residing in the kingdom would be allowed this year, local media reports of some 10,000, is a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million faithful who have performed the rites in 2019.
The hajj is one of the five pillars of islam that every believer is supposed to accomplish at least once in his life, if he can afford it.
“Protect the pilgrims”
“We have no concerns about security this year and it comes to protect the pilgrims of the dangers of the pandemic,” stated to the journalists, Khaled ben Qarar al-Harbi, director of public Safety.
The pilgrims were subject to health checks and placed in quarantine at their arrival to The Mecca this weekend. Their baggage have been disinfected, according to images of the official media.
Unlike the usual and due to pandemic COVID-19, the pilgrims will not be allowed to touch the Kaaba, in order to limit the risk of infection, authorities have indicated saying have deployed mobile clinics and ambulances on the ground to deal with any eventuality.
About 70 % of the pilgrims are of foreign residents in the kingdom, which has recorded about 270 000 cases of infection with the novel coronavirus, one of the highest rates in the Middle East.
The faithful were each given a kit containing pebbles sterilized for the ritual of stoning of Satan, disinfectants, masks, a prayer rug, and a white garment without seam called “ihram” that every pilgrim must wear for the rituals, according to the ministry of Hajj.
The selection of pilgrims for the great pilgrimage this year has been criticised, but the minister of the Hajj Mohammad Benten insisted on the transparency of the process, underlining that the determining criterion was the “protection of health” of the participants.
“I was not expecting to be blessed among millions of muslims”, rejoiced the pilgrim emirati Abdullah Al-Kathiri.
“It is an indescribable feeling… as this is my first pilgrimage”, he said in a video of the saudi ministry of Media.
According to the ministry of Hajj, foreign residents from approximately 160 countries have filed their candidature on the internet.
Each pilgrim spends usually several thousands of dollars but this year, the saudi government covers most expenses including accommodation and meals, according to some sources.
In normal times, the hajj and umrah related approximately US $ 12 billion per year.
The “umrah”, which was suspended in march, is the “little pilgrimage”, which draws in normal time, several tens of thousands of faithful every month, unlike the hajj, which can only be accomplished at specific dates of the lunar calendar islamic.
The restrictions related to the pilgrimage this year will deepen the economic slump of the kingdom, say analysts. Saudi Arabia is already facing a sharp decline in oil prices due to a collapse in global demand and the impact of the pandemic.