For the first time in the country’s modern history, believers living outside the kingdom must not be on the pilgrimage to prevent the spread of the corona virus. The Saudi Arabian participants must also be under 65 years of age and must not have any chronic illnesses.

Before they arrive in the holy city, pilgrims should be tested for the coronavirus. After the hajj, they should go to quarantine.

During hajj, millions converge first on the tent city of Mina, then travel to Mount Arafat, the Grand Mosque of Mecca, and other locations. At each stop of the five- or six-day journey, they meet other Muslims, pray together, and perform deeply symbolic rituals. Pilgrims wear special white garments and enter the sacred state of Ihram, which prohibits things like cutting hair or nails or engaging in sexual relations.

Although several nations have already prohibited their citizens from attending hajj, the news is still a painful blow precisely because part of the power of the pilgrimage is the way it brings together the global Muslim community, according to Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University.

“The hajj is more than just a religious ritual,” Safi says. “At its best, it is a symbol of the radical egalitarianism of Islamic ideals. Ideas and goods get exchanged, and so do mystical ideas.”

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Every devout Muslim who is healthy and can afford to do so is required to participate in the pilgrimage at least once in his life. The pilgrimage usually brings millions of people to Saudi Arabia and is therefore an important source of income for the Gulf state. Last year, 2.5 million believers made a pilgrimage to Mecca.

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