Tuesday September 21, 2021

Masks, robots, bracelets: How COVID-19 has transformed Hajj

July 21, 2021

MAKKAH: Tens of thousands of vaccinated pilgrims circled in Makkah on Sunday, but remained socially distanced and wore masks as the coronavirus took its toll on the Hajj for a second year running, foreign media reported.

What once drew some 2.5 million Muslims from all walks of life from across the globe, the Hajj pilgrimage is now almost unrecognizable in scale.

The pared down Haj of this year and last due to the COVID-19 outbreak not only impacts the ability of people outside Saudi Arabia to fulfill the Islamic

obligation but also the billions of dollars annually that Saudi Arabia draws from being custodian of its holy sites.

The Islamic pilgrimage lasts about five days, but traditionally Muslims begin arriving in Makkah weeks ahead of time. The Haj concludes with the Eidul Azha celebration, marked by the distribution of meat to the poor around the world.

This year, 60,000 vaccinated Saudi citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia have been allowed to perform the Haj due to continued concerns around the spread of the coronavirus. It’s a far greater figure than last year’s largely symbolic hajj that saw fewer than 1,000 people from within the kingdom taking part.

With no clear or agreed upon standard for a vaccine passport, vaccine inoculation rates vastly uneven and new variants of the

virus threatening the progress already made in some nations, it’s unclear when Saudi Arabia will play host again to the millions more Muslim pilgrims it planned to receive in years to come.

The kingdom’s Al Saud rulers have staked their legitimacy in large part on their custodianship of Haj sites, giving them a unique and powerful platform globally among Muslims. The kingdom has gone to great lengths to ensure the annual Haj continues uninterrupted, despite changes caused by the pandemic.