Saudi Arabia: Thousands of face-masked pilgrims performing Islam’s annual Hajj pilgrimage gathered on Mount Arafat on Monday to atone for their sins, expressing hopes for peace and an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites in Makkah and Madinah, has barred worshippers from abroad for a second year running and has restricted entry from within the kingdom under special conditions to guard against the coronavirus and its new variants. Only 60,000 Saudi citizens and residents, aged 18 to 65, who have been fully vaccinated or recovered from the virus and do not suffer from chronic diseases, were selected for the rite, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.
“It is an indescribable feeling that I got selected among millions of people to attend the Hajj. I pray for God to put an end to these hard times the whole world has gone through under the coronavirus,” said Um Ahmed, a Palestinian pilgrim who lives in the Saudi capital Riyadh and who said she lost four family members to the virus.
In previous years, more than two million pilgrims used to cover Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, sitting close to each other in the scorching heat of the desert city of Makkah, carrying umbrellas and fans to keep cool as temperatures rose toward 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
This year pilgrims, dressed in white robes signifying a state of purity, had to observe social distancing and wear face masks on Mount Arafat, the hill where Islam holds God tested Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ismail.
Mount Arafat is also where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave his last sermon.
“The first prayer is to ask God to lift this pandemic, this curse and this grief for all humanity and for Muslims, so in the next years they are able to attend Hajj and for millions to refill these holy sites,” said Maher Baroody, a Syrian pilgrim.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s grand Mufti, has urged all pilgrims to devote their time to the Almighty during the days of Hajj.
He also called on them to adhere to health regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
He added that government and private entities are doing all they can during this year’s Hajj to help pilgrims carry out their religious duty in the best and most comfortable way.
“The efforts are also to ensure the safety of the pilgrims while performing their Hajj rituals in line with the precautionary measures approved by the concerned authorities, aimed for the safety of both the pilgrims and the organizers,” the Mufti told the Saudi News Agency.
He added that serving pilgrims and ensuring their comfort is a custom Saudi Arabia and its leaders have always been known for.
For the second consecutive year, the Hajj has been limited to pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia. The decision was taken to protect them against the pandemic.
The Health Ministry said Saudi Arabia is registering between 1,000 and 1,200 daily COVID-19 cases. It is posting similar numbers of daily recoveries.
The health authority has inoculated more than 22 million of its 35 million citizens and residents. All those selected to partake in this year’s Hajj have been vaccinated.
Courtesy Arab News