Pilgrims wear masks, socially distance during Hajj

Saudi authorities instituted several health measures for this year's Islamic pilgrimage, and the number of attendees was greatly reduced.

al-monitor A picture taken on July 29, 2020, shows pilgrims, some holding colored umbrellas along matching colored rings separating them as a coronavirus pandemic measure, while circumambulating around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the center of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, at the start of the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage.  Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images.

Jul 29, 2020

Muslim pilgrims socially distanced and wore marks during a markedly different hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia today.

The hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. The Islamic faith mandates Muslims who are physically and financially capable of doing so perform the journey at least once in their lives. The occasion involves circling the Kaaba, which is Islam’s holiest site and which Muslims around the world face when they pray.

This year’s hajj was complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj announced that a very limited number of people would participate this year. Attendees had to be under 65 years of age, test negative for the coronavirus and socially distance. Pilgrims are usually selected from all over the world, but this year’s participants were people already present in Saudi Arabia of various nationalities.

Pictures of the hajj today from Saudi Arabia's Center for Government Communication show that pilgrims wore medical masks and stood several feet apart in formations marked by colored lines.

Hajj usually brings more than 2 million people to Mecca. Saudi authorities said only a few thousand would attend this year. The Center for Government Communication pictures appear to show roughly this number of people.

Governments around the Middle East have had to grapple with the risk of coronavirus transmission during religious events since the beginning of the pandemic. Some countries are now instituting restrictions for the Eid al-Adha holiday that is set to begin at the end of this month.