Today marks the first day of Hajj, a pilgrimage that is one of the five pillars of Islam. Two to three million Muslims from around the world gather every year in the Saudi Arabian city of Makkah, Islam’s holiest site, for seven days. There, they perform religious rites as millions more join in prayer from afar. For decades, live broadcasting from Makkah has meant that images of throngs of pilgrims are beamed all over the world.
This year, however, attendance will be limited to only 1,000 people, all of whom must be residents of Saudi Arabia. As precautionary measures are heightened and international travel is extremely limited, the Hajj is being held in extraordinary circumstances. This difficult measure is necessary to limit potential coronavirus infections and to guarantee a safe pilgrimage.
Given the ongoing global health crisis, it is a victory that this year's Hajj is taking place at all. Stringent measures have been introduced to guarantee the well-being of pilgrims and organisers alike. For instance, pilgrims have been granted special permits to access Makkah's different pilgrimage sites. Physical distancing and face masks are mandatory, and pilgrims will also be restricted from touching the holy Kaaba.
Religion brings people of different backgrounds together, yet in the age of Covid-19, the opposite is needed in order to keep our communities safe. Riyadh recognised this challenge early on and took rational steps to protect pilgrimage. The precautions mandated for the pilgrimage have been lauded by the World Health Organisation.
The end of Hajj leads to the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha, making it an opportune time to reflect upon the meaning of sacrifice and patience. The occasion celebrates the Quranic story of Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his own son Ishmael to God. At the last moment, God asked him to sacrifice a lamb instead.
Muslims celebrate this event by sacrificing lambs and giving the meat to the needy, as well as spending time in prayer with their families. The lessons drawn from Hajj and Eid Al Adha could hardly be more relevant today, as the world suffers from the consequences of the coronavirus on the global economy and on our health.
This extraordinary Hajj season, and the limited Eid gatherings that will follow, are an opportunity for Muslims to show solidarity with those less fortunate at a time of hardship. They also offer a chance for us all to seek to help one another more actively, as the yearly holiday is a time for charity. The National wishes pilgrims a blessed Hajj, and Muslims a happy upcoming Eid Al Adha.