Al Azhar congratulates Saudi Arabia for holding the Hajj amid pandemic

Pilgrims to go back to quarantine as Hajj concludes

The premier religious school of Al Azhar has congratulated Saudi Arabia for organising Hajj during the coronavirus pandemic as pilgrims wrap up the ritual and prepare to re-enter quarantine.

The Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayyeb, tweeted his congratulations for “the success of organising Hajj this year.” Al Azhar, one of Islam’s oldest learning institutions, is situated in Egypt.

Mr Al Tayyeb said the kingdom made sure “to organise the Hajj rites to suit the exceptional circumstances imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, and take all precautionary measures to achieve the highest levels of safety for the pilgrims”.

" With God's help, then adhering to all health measures we had put in place, we are happy to say that Hajj this year didn't record any Covid-19 cases," Hamed Fehaan, the spokesperson for Makkah Health Authority told The National.

"Now it is time for the third stage of the plan," he said, explaining that pilgrims will remain in isolation at home for seven days.

Saudi authorities allowed a limited number of pilgrims to take part in the Hajj this year, with restrictions in place against the potential spread of the virus.

All of the pilgrims are residents or citizens of Saudi Arabia and were quarantined before the Hajj began on Thursday.

Mohamed Raizwan, 29-year-old Sri Lankan pilgrim, described the Hajj this year as "the best time in my entire life."

Sitting at the Holy Mosque in Makkah waiting for the Maghreb prayer to begin, he told The National: "This had been a great chance for me, I never expected Hajj to be like this when I [came to] preform it; I always thought when I do it will be with much hardship."

Mr Raizwan was among the few selected pilgrims lucky enough to perform Hajj this year and said that after applying he kept praying he would be accepted, even asking family members in Sri Lanka to do the same.

“I truly felt blessed with this Hajj, never in my life did I think I would experience  something like this, it was such a peaceful Hajj.”

The Health Ministry said on Saturday the "health situation of the pilgrims" was "assuring" and no coronavirus cases have been recorded among them.

The last rites on Sunday comprise stoning the devil in Mina and a farewell Tawaf – pilgrims circling the Kaaba – before going back to quarantine in Makkah for a week.

The official Saudi news agency said precautions had been taken to ensure a safe end to the Hajj, such as coloured pathways for the pilgrims to follow and other measures to ensure that they do not come too close to each other, with the help of security forces.

The agency said precautions are "high" and social distancing had been achieved to preserve the safety of the pilgrims and "the cadres who serve them."

The official latest data showed that 30 more people died from the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia in the last 24 hours, and 1,457 more people were infected.

This brings total recorded deaths in the kingdom from the pandemic to 2,917, with 278,835 people having been infected.