The pilgrimage restricted, Mecca is the joy of some, disappointment of others

Le pèlerinage restreint de La Mecque fait la joie des uns, la déception des autres

RYAD | A couple of Jordanian bursts of joy on learning that he has been selected for the hajj, the great muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, reduced this year to its most simple expression due to the pandemic of COVID-19.

But for many others, the disappointment is the announcement of the refusal of their requests for this ritual, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, that shall begin on July 29.

Arab country of the Gulf most affected by the new coronavirus, the saudi Arabia has formally registered nearly 256, 000 cases of contamination, of which 2 557 deaths.

Fear that the pilgrimage, which attracted 2.5 million people in 2019, does not become a huge hotbed of contagion, the authorities said that only a thousand pilgrims would take part, but local media have put forward the figure of 10,000.

And this year, only the faithful living in saudi Arabia will be allowed to do it, with 70 % foreigners and 30 % of Saudis.

The announcement of this drastic reduction has not prevented a flood of applications, with the participation of residents from 160 countries, according to the authorities, however, have not given the total number of applicants.

“We had barely a 1 % chance of being selected,” said an engineer from jordan 29 years old based in Riyadh, chosen with his wife of 26 years, who works in the health sector.

“We were surprised and delighted”, he added.

“Very opaque”

Nasser, an expatriate nigerian, is also one of the lucky ones. Euphoric, he said to have won his “ticket of gold” for the hajj. “It is an indescribable feeling”, he confided to AFP.

The engineer from jordan, who declined to be named, said he had felt obliged to remove to the literature on social networks announcing her selection, out of fear, jealously looked upon him and his wife.

On Twitter, the ministry of Hajj has faced a barrage of questions from people that are dissatisfied. “Why should I have rejected it without giving reasons?”, asked a woman, adding: “everyone around me has been denied.”

Two widows, a Nigerian and an Egyptian were estimated to have been discarded because they had not mentioned a male guardian to accompany them to the hajj.

The ministry of Hajj has not responded to a question from AFP about the selection criteria.

He had indicated earlier this year that the pilgrims saudis had been selected among the health practitioners and military personnel who had recovered from the virus.

“The authorities have maintained the selection process is very opaque, because it is a sensitive issue”, said to AFP Umar Karim, visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“Keep it away from the attention of the public serves to keep the noise down on those who have been selected”, he added.

Quarantine

The pilgrims typically wait years before being chosen for the hajj, one of the five pillars of islam that every muslim is supposed to accomplish at least once in his life, if he can afford it.

For saudi Arabia, the reduction in the number of pilgrims is a decision fraught with economic consequences, while the kingdom earns every year billion of dollars thanks to the religious tourism.

It occurs, moreover, at a time when the country, the largest exporter of crude in the world, is already severely hit by the fall in oil prices.

But for some, this hadj model could in fact be an evil for a good.

Pilgrims believe that it is safer to participate in the ritual this year without the crowds or huge the usual crowd of tiny religious sites, which increases the risk of jostling or death.

“A lot of people want to do the hajj this year, because it will probably be less cumbersome and more organized because of a mob at large,” said Mr. Karim.

Even if the number of pilgrims is markedly reduced, the precautionary measures to avoid the spread of the virus remain, of course, implementation.

The authorities said that the pilgrims would be tested for the coronavirus before arriving in the holy city of Mecca, and obliged to put themselves in quarantine before and after the ritual.

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