DUBAI (AP) – Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving in Mecca for an annual haj pilgrimage that will be drastically reduced due to the coronavirus crisis, as Saudi authorities try to strike a balance between respecting that venerated tradition Muslim and the need to avoid massive contagion.
The haj, which begins on Wednesday, normally attracts about 2.5 million people during five intense days of prayer in one of the largest congregations of people from around the world.
This year, the Haj Ministry of Saudi Arabia has reported that between 1,000 and 10,000 residents of the kingdom could participate in the pilgrimage. About two thirds of them will be foreigners residing in Saudi Arabia and one third will be Saudi citizens.
The kingdom has one of the largest spread of coronaviruses in the Middle East, with approximately 269,000 reported infections, including 2,760 deaths.
Fatin Daud, a 25-year-old Malay woman studying Arabic in Saudi Arabia, was among those whose applications to participate in the haj were approved. After her selection, officials from the Saudi Ministry of Health came to her home and tested her for COVID-19. She was given an electronic bracelet that detects her movements and was ordered to remain in quarantine at home for several days.
Daud was later transferred to a hotel in Mecca, where she remains in self-isolation, still wearing the electronic bracelet. A large box of food is delivered to your room three times a day as you prepare to start the pilgrimage.
“It was incredible. It felt a bit surreal because I didn’t expect to get it, ”she said of her excitement upon learning that she had been chosen. Daud added that he has been praying for the end of COVID-19 and for the unity of Muslims worldwide.
For the first time in the history of Saudi Arabia, pilgrims from abroad will not be allowed to be part of the haj, due to the danger of contagion from coronavirus. International media will also not have permission to cover the pilgrimage.