Jeddah: About 1,000 pilgrims have reached the Mina Valley outside Makkah on Wednesday to begin their spiritual journey in what is a first-of-its-kind downsized pilgrimage due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The hajj, one of the five pillars or most important practices of Islam and an obligation for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings as around 2.5 million people descend on the city from all over the world.
But this year attendance is being limited to 1,000 people already residing in the kingdom as the authorities seek to control Covid-19. The disease has already infected more than 270,000 people in Saudi Arabia.
The Day of Tarwiyah (fetching water) marks the beginning of Hajj. There are no major rituals, so the pilgrims will spend their time praying and reflecting until sunrise on Thursday.
Mina, 7 km northeast of the Grand Mosque in Makkah and within its boundaries, would normally be the site of the world’s largest tent city, accommodating over two million pilgrims each year.
Those selected to take part in this year’s Hajj were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began arriving in Makkah, and health workers sanitized their luggage, Arab News reported.
Health and safety staff with disinfectant cleaned the area around the Kaaba, the structure at the center of the Grand Mosque draped in gold-embroidered cloth toward which Muslims around the world pray.
Hajj authorities have cordoned the Kaaba this year, and pilgrims will not be allowed to touch it, to limit the chances of infection. They have also set up dedicated health centers, mobile clinics and ambulances to care for the pilgrims, who will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing.
All pilgrims were required to be tested for coronavirus before they arrived in Makkah, and they will be quarantined after the pilgrimage.
They were given amenity kits that include sterilized pebbles for the Jamarat stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks, a prayer rug and the ihram, the seamless white garment worn by pilgrims.