Hajj amidst pandemic
The Muslim pilgrimage of hajj begun Saturday and for the second year running the pilgrimage has attracted least crowds. This year also only sixty thousands of vaccinated Muslim pilgrims have been permitted to circle Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.
The pilgrimage which once drew some 2.5 million Muslims from all walks of life from across the globe is now almost unrecognizable and all this has happened due to the coronavirus pandemic and that too for the second year in a row.
The pared-down hajj prevents Muslims from outside Saudi Arabia from fulfilling an Islamic obligation. The Islamic pilgrimage lasts about five days, but traditionally Muslims begin arriving in Mecca weeks ahead of time. The hajj concludes with the Eid al-Adha celebration, marked by the Kurbani and distribution of meat to the poor and relatives and friends.
This year, 60,000 vaccinated Saudi citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia have been allowed to perform the hajj due to continued concerns around the spread of the coronavirus. Last year’s largely symbolic hajj saw fewer than 1,000 people from within the kingdom taking part.
It’s unclear when Saudi Arabia will play host again to millions of Muslims. The kingdom has no clear standard for a vaccine passport, vaccination rates are uneven in different countries and new variants of the virus are threatening the progress already made in some nations.
This year again the Saudi government has not allowed any fresh media crew to cover the holiest of pilgrimages but has granted permission to the International media outlets already present in the kingdom to cover the hajj from Mecca.
Hajj is one of Islam’s most important requirements to be performed once in a lifetime. It follows a route the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) walked nearly 1,400 years ago and is believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (RA).
The hajj is seen as a chance to wipe clean past sins and bring about greater unity among Muslims. The communal feeling of more than 2 million people from around the world Shiite, Sunni and other Muslim sects praying together, eating together and repenting together has long been part of what makes hajj both a challenging and a transformative experience.
But the covid-19 has changed it all not only for Muslims in Saudi Arabia but across the globe. Even praying in masjids and other places has been disallowed during the past two years now and the uncertainty about the virus sis still making people worrisome.
As we also celebrate the festival of Eid-al-Adha we also need to remind ourselves the threat the pandemic holds for all of us. We may have come out of the second cavoid-19 wave but the threat of a third wave looms large on us.
So precaution, precaution and precaution can only make the difference to keep the virus at bay.