Saudi Arabia to permit a million Hajj pilgrims this 12 months

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In this file photo, Muslim pilgrims gather at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy city of Mecca on August 7, 2019, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city. — AFP
On this file picture, Muslim pilgrims collect on the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia´s holy metropolis of Mecca on August 7, 2019, previous to the beginning of the annual Hajj pilgrimage within the holy metropolis. — AFP

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia mentioned Saturday it’ll allow a million Muslims from inside and outdoors the nation to take part on this 12 months’s Hajj, a pointy uptick after pandemic restrictions compelled two years of drastically pared-down pilgrimages.

The transfer, whereas falling in need of reinstating regular Hajj circumstances, provided hopeful information for a lot of Muslims outdoors the dominion who’ve been barred from making the journey since 2019.

One of many 5 pillars of Islam, the Hajj have to be undertaken by all Muslims with the means not less than as soon as of their lives. Normally one of many world’s largest spiritual gatherings, about 2.5 million folks took half in 2019.

However after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Saudi authorities allowed only one,000 pilgrims to take part.

The next 12 months, they upped the overall to 60,000 totally vaccinated Saudi residents and residents chosen by way of a lottery.

This 12 months the Saudi Hajj ministry “has authorised a million pilgrims, each overseas and home, to carry out the Hajj,” it mentioned in a pre-dawn assertion Saturday.

Age cap criticised

The pilgrimage, which can happen in July, will probably be restricted to vaccinated Muslims beneath age 65, the assertion mentioned.

These coming from outdoors Saudi Arabia, who should apply for Hajj visas, will this 12 months even be required to submit a destructive COVID-19 PCR consequence from a take a look at taken inside 72 hours of journey.

The federal government desires to advertise pilgrims’ security “whereas making certain that the utmost variety of Muslims worldwide can carry out the Hajj”, the assertion mentioned.

The Hajj consists of a collection of non secular rites which might be accomplished over 5 days in Islam’s holiest metropolis, Mecca, and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.

Authorities took a lot of particular measures to cut back the unfold of the coronavirus final 12 months, together with dividing pilgrims into teams of 20 and handing out disinfectants, masks and sterilised pebbles for the “stoning of Devil” ritual.

However the comparatively small crowds have been distressing to Muslims overseas.

“We’ve been in nice disappointment and ache previously two years due to the small variety of pilgrims. The scene was horrible,” 36-year-old Cairo resident Mohamed Tamer mentioned Saturday.

“I’m very completely happy that the Hajj will return to normality to some extent,” he added, although he additionally expressed fear about rising prices together with for flights and resorts.

Reactions to Saturday’s announcement have been typically optimistic on social media, although some Twitter customers criticised the age cap.

“Such nice information, however imposing age restrictions is heartbreaking for a lot of aged Hajj aspirants,” one consumer wrote in response to the Hajj ministry’s announcement.

Others voiced concern about what would occur to pilgrims who financed journeys to Mecca — solely to have their plans ruined by a optimistic COVID-19 take a look at.

Matter of status

Internet hosting the Hajj is a matter of status for Saudi rulers, because the custodianship of Islam’s holiest websites is essentially the most highly effective supply of their political legitimacy.

Earlier than the pandemic, Muslim pilgrimages have been key income earners for the dominion, bringing in some $12 billion yearly.

The dominion of roughly 34 million folks has to date recorded greater than 751,000 coronavirus instances, together with 9,055 deaths, based on well being ministry knowledge.

In early March it introduced the lifting of most COVID restrictions together with social distancing in public areas and quarantine for vaccinated arrivals, strikes that have been anticipated to facilitate a rise in Muslim pilgrims.

The choice included suspending “social distancing measures in all open and closed locations” together with mosques, whereas masks at the moment are solely required in closed areas.

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