Mecca has seen the largest attendance of worshippers this year after previous years saw the pandemic heavily restrict numbers.
After 2 years of waiting, international pilgrims will finally be able to perform Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Numbers are said to be in the millions as the annual, Islamic pilgrimage is set to begin this Thursday. This is a stark contrast to the 60,000 pilgrims that were allowed to attend last year and the 10,000 that were permitted during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The reduced numbers were an attempt to keep infection rates at bay during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, only 2 years later, everything is now pretty much back to normal and so are the rules surrounding Hajj it seems.
There are, however, some new changes this year…
The first is ‘masking.’
While previous years saw pilgrims being forced to wear a mask throughout the entire holy site, now restrictions have eased to just having to wear a face covering in the Grand Mosque, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement, though organisers of other events can choose to enforce the rule if they wish.
The second is unaccompanied women.
While typically, women would have to be chaperoned by a male relative, it has now been decided that it is not an essential requirement so has been dropped.
The final thing is the Kaaba and food ban.
In order to keep the risk of COVID-19 spreading during such a crowded event, worshippers will not be allowed to touch the Kaaba. A wall has gone up around the area so that while visitors are performing tawaf, they cannot spend time touching or kissing the holy box, which in turn gives that time to cleaners to make sure that the area remains disinfected.
This, as well as the devil stoning event that takes place, have both previously led to stampedes which have resulted in multiple fatalities – the worst being in 2015 when approximately 2,400 pilgrims lost their lives on their way to the holy sites. It is now known as the Mina stampede and stands as the deadliest Hajj disaster in history. Due to the public backlash as a result, new rules have been implemented in the hopes that history does not repeat itself.
Also, the food ban prohibits any food being taken into the two main mosques and both will remain closed over the period between Isha (night) and Fajr (morning) prayers.
For those people that were lucky enough to experience Hajj this year, may Allah accept your efforts. Insha’Allah we’ll all be able to visit one day.