Hajj began in Saudi Arabia on Saturday under strict COVID-19 precautionary measures, the second year in a row the annual Islamic ritual has been held during extenuating circumstances.
Pilgrims began to flock to Mecca early on Saturday morning in preparation for the start of the ritual, which is one of the five pillars of Islam and a rite for every able-bodied Muslim.
Hundreds of Muslims arrived at the al-Zaidi station in Mecca, where more than 200 buses will take them to the Kaaba’s courtyards after their permits are checked. Ahead of their pilgrimage, the pilgrims were asked to download the Shaaer Smart Card mobile application.
On the app, a pilgrim’s personal and residency details, as well as their smart Hajj application will be displayed. The Shaaer Smart Card is linked to a pilgrim’s health status. It also allows the pilgrim to get and rate Hajj services, access various transportation around the courtyards of Mecca and throughout their Hajj journey, access the smart gates, among other things.
Mecca would normally welcome over 2.5 million Muslims from around the world for Hajj. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Hajj has been limited to only 60,000 people living in Saudi Arabia who have been vaccinated against the virus.
Last year, just months after the outbreak began, the Kingdom only allowed 10,000 people residing in the country to perform the ritual.
Saudi authorities have said that they hope to repeat the success of last year’s Hajj, which was characterized by immense organization and the full commitment of officials and pilgrims to follow preventative guidelines.
Only vaccinated citizens and residents have been given permission to perform the ritual. They must also be between the ages of 18 and 65, must not suffer from chronic illnesses, and should not have performed Hajj before.
Social distancing measures will be enforced at all times during Hajj to ensure the pilgrims do not contract the coronavirus. Robots have also been stationed around the courtyards of the Kaaba to spray sanitizer throughout the day.
Several other robots are also being used to serve holy Zamzam water to pilgrims and workers.