For the second year in a row, the annual pilgrimage of Hajj is being transformed by the coronavirus.
Before the pandemic, vast crowds dressed in white, unstitched robes circled the black Kaaba, chanting in unison for hours on end: “Allah, here I am. You have no equal, here I am. Verily, all praise and blessings are Yours and all sovereignty. You have no equal.”
With internal restrictions and measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus in place, a decision was made to allow only Saudi Arabian citizens and residents of the kingdom to perform the pilgrimage this year under a strict set of regulations and permits.
When does Hajj begin?
Hajj starts on the ninth day of Dhu Al Hijja (That of Hajj) under the Islamic lunar calendar, corresponding this year with July 11 on the Gregorian calendar.
The first 10 days leading to the pilgrimage carry significant and meaningful milestones for Muslims in the 12th and final month of their lunar year.
In Dhu Al Hijja, and the three other sacred months of the year, Muslims are banned from going to war except as an act of self-defence, and are encouraged to engage in more forms of worship than usual.
After Islam was established and the people of Makkah entered the faith, Prophet Mohammed and his companions performed Hajj on this month.
During that pilgrimage, Muslims witnessed the ideal application of the rituals of Hajj and attempt to mimic Prophet Mohammed's enactment to this day.
The first 10 days
Mentioned in the Quran for their importance, Muslim scholars have placed a tremendous weight on good deeds performed during the first 10 days of the month.
Fasting from dawn until dusk is one of the most beloved acts of worship in that period. In contrast to the month of Ramadan, this fast is not mandatory but is 'mustahab', or recommended.
The majority of practicing Muslims fast on the day that pilgrims ascend the mount of Arafat – which will fall on Monday, July 19 this year.
This marks the start of the journey of Hajj, where pilgrims head to the mount where they remain until sunset.
Prayers are believed to be answered on this day, which is considered one of the holiest days of the Islamic year.
During the first third of the month, Muslims recite the Quran, and dhikr [praising Allah]. Giving alms, and for Makkah's residents, providing supplies for the pilgrims are among the most virtuous deeds.
During Hajj, pilgrims are not encouraged to fast because of the difficulty some might find in performing all of the tenets of the pilgrimage.
Eid Al Adha
Day 10 of Dhu Al Hijjah marks the first day of Eid Al Adha.
The name Eid Al Adha is derived from the Arabic word Al Udhiya, which means animal sacrifice.
Each year during these days, Muslims who have the financial means sacrifice their best halal domestic animals – usually a cow, camel, goat, sheep or ram depending on the region – as a symbol of the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son, Ismail.
The meat is typically divided among the executor and their family, and those in need. A person can also arrange for the sacrifice to be held in another region or country where meat is less abundant or cheaper.
Unlike Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, Eid Al Adha is four days long. On the first day, Eid prayers are usually performed in the morning before the sacrifice is carried out.
But this year as countries impose different measures regarding congregational prayers, it is unclear whether socially distanced Eid prayers will be permitted.