All you need to know about Hajj in 2021

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for every Muslim who can afford it

Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Follow the latest updates on Hajj 2021 here

The Hajj pilgrimage attracts nearly two million Muslims and generates about $12 billion in revenue for Saudi Arabia every year.

Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdul Fattah Mashat said the Hajj and Umrah, a shorter pilgrimage, which can be performed at any time of the year, are major components of the Saudi Vision 2030.

The plan aims to boost the religious tourism sector and host 30 million Umrah pilgrims annually by 2030.

Last year, the kingdom closed its borders to contain the spread of Covid-19 and Hajj was restricted to 1,000 domestic pilgrims.

Last week, the Ministry of Hajj announced only residents and citizens would be permitted to perform Hajj this year.

Numbers will be limited to 60,000 because of the health threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision was taken in view of the global situation and the emergence of new mutations of the coronavirus, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said.

What is Hajj?

Hajj, the Arabic word for pilgrimage, is one of the five pillars of Islam and a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for every Muslim who can afford it. Millions of faithful make the pilgrimage to holiest sites of Islam in the cities of Makkah and Madinah, beginning on the eighth day of Dhu Al Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar.

What is special about Hajj?

Hajj is the ultimate spiritual experience for devout Muslims – a chance to start afresh and celebrate the spirit of unity in Islam. Pilgrims are all required to perform the same rituals taught by the Prophet Mohammed, to remind them that they are all equal before God.

When does Hajj begin this year? How long does it take?

This year, Hajj is expected to begin on July 17. The pilgrimage takes three days but most pilgrims extend their stay by a week to pray in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

What do pilgrims wear during Hajj?

During Hajj, as for Umrah, men wear two sheets of white plain cloth to cover the upper and lower body, while women must wear modest clothes that cover their bodies to the ankle and scarves to cover their hair. The clothes are usually white, although there is no restriction on colour.

What happens during Hajj?

On the first day, Muslims perform Umrah, which includes tawaf and sa'i. The former involves circumambulating the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam, built by the Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismail, at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. In the latter, pilgrims walk seven times between two hills, called Safa and Marwa, in the mosque complex.

After Umrah, Muslims travel to Mina, a holy site south-east of Makkah, by a shuttle service and camp there in tents overnight. Mina, also known as the city of tents, can host up to three million people.

On the second day, pilgrims travel to Mount Arafat, five kilometres from Makkah, where the Prophet Mohammed delivered his last sermon.

Pilgrims spend the day praying at Arafat until sunset, then walk the seven kilometres to the third holy site, Muzdalifah. There, they perform the sunset and night prayers and spend the night praying under the open sky.

On the third morning, the pilgrims gather pebbles and return to Mina for the stoning ceremony. They throw seven pebbles each at Jamrat Al Aqabah, a stone monument that signifies the temptations of Satan, between sunrise and sunset.

The pilgrims’ three concluding acts include sacrificing an animal to feed people in need, which can be done by purchasing a voucher, cutting or shaving their hair and returning to Makkah for another Umrah. Most women cut a few strands of hair while men prefer to shave their heads.

Will Hajj be open to international pilgrims?

This year, only residents and citizens will perform the pilgrimage.

Sixty thousand vaccinated pilgrims will be allowed into Makkah this season.

Saudi Arabia has opened its borders for international travellers.

During Ramadan, only vaccinated pilgrims were allowed to perform Umrah. Most pilgrims arrive at the airport in Jeddah, which is the city closest to Makkah.

What are the conditions for performing Hajj this year?

Saudi Arabia said those wishing to perform the Hajj would have to apply online. The authorities did not specify how many foreign residents would be among the 60,000 pilgrims.

Only people between the ages of 18 and 65 who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior and are free of chronic diseases will be allowed to perform Hajj this year, the ministry said.

The Ministry of Health said “those over the age of 65 are being prevented from performing Hajj this year in order to preserve their health during the ongoing pandemic”.

New safety protocols, the ministry said, would be implemented in Hajj zones, based on age groups.

People who have received only one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine can apply to perform the Hajj, but must have their second dose at least two weeks before arriving for the pilgrimage if approval is granted.

Each pilgrim must carry vaccination certificates authorised by approved health institutes in their country of origin and provide a negative PCR test certificate issued by a recognised laboratory not more than 40 hours earlier.

What are the Hajj packages available this year?

The Hajj and Umrah ministry has announced three Hajj packages.

The first costs 12,113 Saudi riyals ($3,230) and the second 14,381 riyals.

Both packages include food, transport and accommodation in camps.

The third package, for 16,560 riyals, will include accommodation in buildings, meals, shuttle service and amenities. The Hajj ministry said transfers include transportation from Makkah to and from the holy sites at which pilgrims perform the rituals of Hajj.

What are the health protocols at the holy sites?

All employees working directly or indirectly during the Hajj this year must be inoculated. Foreign pilgrims will have to quarantine for three days on arrival.

Authorities have specified procedures that must be followed at entry points within and before entering the country. These include verification of all health documents, including vaccination certificates, and visual screening procedures.

Pilgrims will be divided into groups for transport to holy sites.

All places of accommodation have Covid-19 health protocols in place to ensure social distancing and prevent overcrowding in rooms.

Catering companies must ensure food is provided to pilgrims in their rooms, to prevent people gathering for meals. Buffets will not be permitted in restaurants or hotels. When the pilgrims travel to Arafat, bags will be sterilised and designated pathways laid out from train stations to help them navigate the holy sites safely. Pilgrims will be assigned specific seats, with an empty one in between to ensure social distancing protocols are followed.

Pilgrims will be restricted to their accommodation in Arafat and Muzdalifah, meaning they cannot go to see friends or relatives staying in other hotels or compounds. Saudi health authorities said they will continue to assess and update the precautions as needed.

What is the Hajj smart card? How does it work?

The Ministry of Hajj has introduced smart technology to facilitate Hajj rituals.

These include a Hajj smart card system, which will enlist all the approved Hajj pilgrims and link them to services and amenities, including access to camps, transport, hotels, cashless payment terminals and ATMs, and identify crowded spots at the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is working with authorities "to prepare the residence sites for pilgrims in Arafat within a system that relies on modern technologies, and to link the co-ordinates of the sites to the guest’s smart card".

The Hajj smart card is encrypted with a QR code that enables pilgrims to download the app on their smartphones.

It contains every pilgrim’s information, including medical and residential details, and provides access to facilities and camps. The card uses near-field communication technology, which makes it readable by kiosks to identify crowded spots throughout the holy sites and help guide lost pilgrims.

The ministry said that the local companies which are responsible for transporting pilgrims from outside Makkah, must register the pilgrims' details and record the amount collected from each, and send it to the Ministry no later than July 13.

The companies must ensure that all pilgrims are given their smart cards for entry to Makkah.

The ministry shared a live location link, using Google Maps, on its official Twitter page, showing the locations of the camps in Arafat and Mina.

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