Pilgrims arrive in Mecca. Saudi kings have for generations assumed titles as custodians of Islam’s holiest site. Their oversight of the hajj is a source of prestige and inﬂuence among Muslims globally.
Saudi Arabia has never canceled the hajj in the nearly 90 years since the country was founded. This year, in the time of pandemy, some things changed. Pilgrims this year were required to be between the ages of 20 and 50, and in good health. Pilgrims must wear face masks and will only be able to drink holy water from the Zamzam well in Mecca that has been prepackaged in plastic bottles. They will be required to pray at a distance from one another and to have their own prayer rugs. For the ﬁrst time in Saudi history, no pilgrims from abroad were permitted to take part in the hajj due to concerns about the coronavirus and overcrowding. Some 2 million pilgrims from more than 160 countries ﬂocked to Mecca for the spiritual rituals yearly but this year, Saudi Arabia’s Hajj Ministry has said between 1,000 and 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will be allowed to perform the pilgrimage.
The Saudi government is covering the expenses of all pilgrims this year, providing them with meals, hotel accommodation, transportation and health care. The kingdom has one of the Mideast’s largest outbreaks of the coronavirus, with more than 266,000 reported infections, including 2,733 deaths.