Hajj 2020: Saudi Arabia’s unveils revised guidelines amid pandemic

Amidst a growing coronavirus pandemic, the Muslim world eagerly awaits the coveted Holy Months of Islam when annual Pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Saudi Arabia is made. After careful consideration and planning by the Saudi Hajj committee, the annual pilgrimage has been scaled back with strict protocols and guidelines for both pilgrims and organisers. Among them are strict directions not to kiss or touch the Kaaba. It seems like Hajj this year will be scaled down in terms of devotional practises.

Saudi Arabia Hajj 2020

Saudi Arabia, the center of the Muslim world, custodians of the Kaaba. There has been immense unrest amidst the Muslim world regarding the royal kingdoms decisions related to the annual Hajj pilgrimage of 2020. With many eagerly awaiting Saudi Arabia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting implications for Muslims that plan on being part of Hajj 2020.

Saudi Arabia earlier announced strict curfews and lockdowns in attempts of controlling the novel coronavirus. The two most Holy sites, namely the Prophet’s Mosque and The Holy Kaaba, were also banned from having any visitors, as Umrah and congregational prayers, both were put on halt.

Saudi Arabia amid coronavirus pandemic

Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world flock annually to the cities of Mecca and Medina for the week-long ritual scheduled to begin in late July. This year, no overseas visitors would be allowed.

Tough restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus came into force in March, including 24-hour curfews in most towns and cities.

Read more: Saudi Arabia plans to reopen mosques in Mecca

Some measures have been lifted, with tens of thousands of mosques – including the Prophet’s Mosque in the city of Medina – reopened in May of 2020. Around 1,500 mosques in Mecca followed suit.

Saudi Arabia has recorded almost 200,000 infections and 1,916 deaths, according to current figures.

Saudi Arabia’s health protocols for Hajj 2020

Saudi Arabia’s ministers of Hajj and Heath have assured the safety of pilgrims during Hajj 2020 – announcing guidelines including age restrictions, social distancing measures among others at a press conference held on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia announced health protocols to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in the 2020 Haj season, banning gatherings and meetings between pilgrims, the state news agency said on Monday.

Saudi Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten said the plan for this year’s pilgrimage has been outlined with the Ministry of Health, in accordance with coronavirus precautionary measures.

Pilgrims will be tested for coronavirus before arriving in the holy city of Mecca and will be required to quarantine at home after the ritual.

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Wearing of face masks at all times will be mandatory for both pilgrims and organisers.

Touching or kissing the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam, will be banned during the Hajj this year, and a physical distancing space of a metre and a half between each pilgrim during the rituals including mass prayers and while in the Kaaba circling area will be imposed, according to a statement by the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

Congregational prayers are permitted, but worshippers are required to wear face masks and maintain physical distancing.

Also, access to holy sites at Mina, Muzdalifah and Mount Arafat will be limited to those with Hajj permits starting Sunday July 19 till August 2.

Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said the ministry has prepared a hospital in case of emergencies during the pilgrimage.

It will be mandatory for both pilgrims and organisers to wear face masks at all time during the annual Hajj processions.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to limit attendees for Hajj 2020

As one of the five key pillars in Islam, Hajj is a requirement for all physically and financially able Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime.

This year, the kingdom’s Hajj ministry said the ritual would be open only to individuals of various nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia.

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Saudi Arabia decided in June to limit the number of domestic pilgrims attending the Haj to around 1,000 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first year in modern times.

The number of pilgrims to be allowed to perform Hajj has not yet been finalized, Benten said.

Earlier on Monday, the Saudi government announced Hajj will go ahead next month but with a “very limited” number of pilgrims allowed to take part.

The decision was taken due to the ongoing threat from the coronavirus pandemic and to preserve “global public health,” the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said.

In a virtual news conference on Tuesday, Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten said the government is still in the process of reviewing the number of overall pilgrims allowed, saying they could be “around 1,000, maybe less, maybe a little more”.

“The number won’t be in tens or hundreds of thousands” this year, he added.

Read more: Economy to take a hit as Hajj curtailed for 2020 by Saudi Arabia

Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said no one over the age of 65 or with chronic illnesses would be allowed to perform the Hajj.

This is the first time in Saudi Arabia’s nearly 90-year history that foreign visitors have been barred from performing Hajj. The Hajj has been cancelled because of war and past epidemics throughout history, but not since the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

GVS News Desk with additional input by Online News Agency

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