Hajj, one of the largest yearly gatherings on Earth has been off-limits to most of the Muslims all around the world as Coronavirus continues to spread. Saudi Arabia normally hosts more than 2 million people during the annual pilgrimage, but this year only around 1000 people were allowed to attend the Hajj. Most of the worshippers this year were foreign residents of Saudi Arabia. The selected 1000 people were aged between 20 and 50.
Worshippers were asked to quarantine themselves before and after the pilgrimage. Face masks and maintaining social maintenance was made mandatory.
Saudi Arabia experienced the most COVID-19 cases in the Arab world this year. The vast majority of worshippers come from abroad, limiting hajj this year has damaged Saudi Arabia’s economy. Travel firms alongside restaurants and hotels are in a great financial loss as they have no work.
What is Hajj?
Hajj is a pilgrimage to the Islamic Holy sites around and inside Makkah, a city in Saudi Arabia. If a Muslim is physically and financially able to perform Hajj, he/she must do it at least once in a lifetime. Hajj takes around 3 to 5 days.
Muslims believe that the roots of Hajj date back to the time of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH). It seeks to gather Muslims in the spirit of brotherhood and unity. The rituals of Hajj are reminders of the obedience and sacrifices of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH).
About 2 million people perform Hajj each year. It is the largest gathering of people on the planet. These people are selected through a process, and priority is given to those who have not performed Hajj before. After the Hajj, pilgrims sacrifice animals in gratitude. The starting date of Hajj is the eighth day of the lunar month of Dhul – Hijjah. Hajj ends on the 12th day of Dhul – Hijjah.
How did Hajj Happen this year?
Saudi Arabia decided to allow around 1000 people to perform Hajj this year. The pilgrimage 2020 was only open to the individuals of other nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia. According to the health minister Tawafiq al Rabiah, it was decided that people above the age of 65 or those having chronic illness would not be allowed to perform Hajj.
Pilgrims were ordered to observe social distancing while wearing masks during the Hajj. The worshippers selected to take part in Hajj were placed in quarantine centers before the beginning of the ritual. The government also had made it mandatory to check the temperature of every worshipper before Hajj.
The luggage of the pilgrims was disinfected and sanitized and the government provided electronic wristbands to the pilgrims. This helped the government keep a check at their whereabouts. The area around Holy Kaaba was also disinfected. Authorities had made a boundary wall around the Kaaba this year to prevent the gathering of people around the Kaaba. Touching and kissing the Kaaba was not allowed this year.
The worshippers were advised to keep a distance of 1.5 meters during the prayers. Authorities had also arranged mobile clinics, multiple health facilities, and ambulances to deal with unfortunate incidents.
Pilgrims had also been provided with their prayer rugs and attire which was laced with nanotechnology that helps kill bacteria. This technology also keeps the clothes of worshippers water-resistant. Other essentials like towels, soap, sanitizer, and umbrellas had also been provided.
Only Saudi media was allowed to cover the event of Hajj this year, unlike the previous years where a large number of foreign media teams covered the event. The pebbles that were thrown at the devil were also sterilized and bagged beforehand.
Hajj has been interrupted at least 40 times since 930, according to the historians. These events include outburst of cholera, diplomatic issues, and political descriptions. The spread of plague in 1814 in the Hejaz region caused the death of around 8,000 people and pilgrimage was not allowed that year as well. Similarly, Hajj was not conducted for about a decade when the black stone was stolen by a tribe.
The economic impact of limited Hajj would be significant this year. Most of the pilgrims during Hajj are Muslims from foreign lands. This gathering allows restaurants, travel agencies, local transportation, airlines, and mobile phone companies to earn a significant amount of money. The Saudi government benefits from the taxes during the Hajj period.
Saudi economy generates around $12 billion per year from Hajj and Umrah. This makes around 20% of the country’s non-petroleum GDP. The local economies are mostly dependent upon the worshippers to earn.
Though the Hajj limitations saved lots of pilgrims from the fatal disease, it also affected hundreds of small businesses that earn from hosting one of the biggest gatherings in the world. Not just the businesses but whole cities that benefited by looking after the pilgrims did not make much this year.
According to the IMF, the GDP of Saudi Arabia is expected to contract by 6.8 percent as both the oil prices and pandemic take a toll.