MECCA: Haj pilgrims taking part in the limited capacity pilgrimage this year due to Covid-19 have begun moving to Muzdalifah after they gathered at Mount Arafat in Mecca yesterday where they stood in prayer till sunset in one of the most important days of the Islamic calendar.
The rocky areas of Arafat, Mina, and Muzdalifah a few kilometres east of Mecca are the main sites of Haj, which culminates with today’s Eid Al Adha holiday, and are the location of rituals laid out by the Prophet Mohammed.
At Muzdalifah, pilgrims will gather pebbles for a symbolic stoning of the devil ritual starting today, which is also the Eid Al Adha feast of sacrifice marked by the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims.
They will pray the sunset and evening prayers combined and spend the night in the open plains of the area before heading back to Mina to perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ritual the next day.
This year’s Haj was only open to a limited number of people due to the coronavirus pandemic. Seventy per cent of the pilgrims were non-Saudi Arabians residing in the kingdom and 30pc were Saudi Arabians.
The nationals who performed Haj are healthcare workers and security forces who have recovered from the virus, as a way to show appreciation for their efforts in the kingdom’s continued fight against the novel coronavirus.
Authorities in Mecca have set several health and safety guidelines in preparation for the pilgrimage, including the implementation of a medical quarantine for all incoming pilgrims ahead of their entry into Mecca’s holy sites.
All pilgrims will be following social distancing measures of keeping two metres between each other throughout their pilgrimage in Mecca.
Pilgrims will also be divided into separate groups not exceeding 20 individuals per group. All groups will be accompanied by a guide throughout their pilgrimage.
The Haj minister said in June the number of pilgrims would be limited to around 1,000, but no official number has been given for those performing the rituals this week. Some local media cited a figure of around 10,000.
Unlike past years when they lunged towards the Kaaba, pilgrims are not allowed to touch the plain stone cube building covered in black cloth and wrapped in Arabic writing in golden silk.
Workers sanitised the structure, rubbing Oud perfume, on its walls and carrying incense as they moved around the premises of the Grand Mosque.
Pilgrims took several medical tests and were asked to quarantine for a week before starting their journey, then isolate for another week in their hotel rooms.
They were given an electronic bracelet to monitor their movements and a suitcase containing all basic necessities.
On site, 3,500 workers spread across the Grand Mosque in Mecca to sanitise it using 54,000 litres of disinfectant and 1,050 litres of air fresheners daily. The floors of the mosque were scrubbed 10 times a day, up from three times in the past.
Six hospitals were dedicated to serving pilgrims, 51 clinics and 200 ambulances were spread across different sites with the support of 62 field teams and 8,000 healthcare professionals.