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Coronavirus

Hajj amid COVID-19: Steps and rituals every pilgrim must follow

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Hajj began on Saturday, with thousands of Muslims around Saudi Arabia flocking to Mecca to start their pilgrimage.

This year, the Islamic ritual is being held under strict precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Only 60,000 vaccinated citizens and residents of the Kingdom have been permitted to perform Hajj, compared to the near 3 million Muslims who used to travel from all over the world to Mecca every year.

Here are the steps and rituals that all pilgrims must perform to complete their pilgrimage:

Once they arrive in Mecca, the pilgrims will walk around the Kaaba seven times for the “welcoming tawaf” – known as the circumambulation.

They are required to abide by social distancing measures and wear a face mask at all times.

A guide leads Muslims as they begin the Hajj ritual on July 17, 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
A guide leads Muslims as they begin the Hajj ritual on July 17, 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (SPA)

They will then proceed to pray inside the Great Mosque of Mecca near the Kaaba and drink water from the Zamzam well.

Small black-and-white robots will roam around the courtyards of the Kaaba to serve bottled Zamzam water to the pilgrims.

Muslims believe that Zamzam is a miraculously generated source of water from God, which sprang thousands of years ago when Ibrahim’s infant son Ismail was left with his mother Hajar in the desert. After desperately looking for water to quench their thirst, God made water spring out of the ground, and it remains until today.

A picture taken on June 15, 2021, shows a smart robot used for the first time at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca, supplying worshippers with bottles of Zamzam water to reduce direct contact with staff as a measure to prevent COVID-19 infections during the yearly hajj pilgrimage. (AFP)
A picture taken on June 15, 2021, shows a smart robot used for the first time at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca, supplying worshippers with bottles of Zamzam water to reduce direct contact with staff as a measure to prevent COVID-19 infections during the yearly hajj pilgrimage. (AFP)

“The aim of these robots is to provide personal services without any human contact,” said Bader al-Loqmani, who manages water from the Zamzam spring, said.

“Roughly 20 robots are currently available for helping visitors and pilgrims at the hajj,” al-Loqmani said, noting that more could be brought onstream if necessary.

After drinking the Zamzam water, the pilgrims will then move to the Safa and Marwah hills near the Kaaba. There, they will either walk or run seven times between the hills to symbolically emulate the run that Hajar did in search for water for her son.

On Sunday, they will head to Mina where they will spend the whole day praying.

Over 200 buses have been prepared to transport the pilgrims from the Grand Mosque to Mina. The buses can transport an average of 2,000 pilgrims every three hours, according to officials.

Muslims arrive to be taken to the Grand Mosque, ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia July 17, 2021. (Reuters)
Muslims arrive to be taken to the Grand Mosque, ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia July 17, 2021. (Reuters)

Pilgrims have been assigned different colors, corresponding to their designated “spots” once they arrive in Mina. The measure has been put in place to prevent crowding and ensure that each pilgrim has enough space to perform their prayers.

On Monday, the pilgrims will make their way to Arafat for the most important ritual of Hajj. There, they will spend the day praying on the mountain where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his last sermon.

A file photo of mask-clad pilgrims making their way to Mount Arafat, in 2020. (Twitter)
A file photo of mask-clad pilgrims making their way to Mount Arafat, in 2020. (Twitter)

After sunset prayers, the pilgrims will head to Muzdalifah where they will pray and collect small stones and pebbles.

On the first day of Eid al-Adha, the pilgrims will return to Mina to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil.

Yellow markings will be placed on the floor around the giant stone to ensure that the pilgrims maintain an adequate distance between one another.

A picture taken on July 31, 2020 shows Muslim worshippers throwing pebbles as part of the symbolic al-A'qabah (stoning of the devil ritual) at the Jamarat Bridge during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, near Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca. (File photo: AFP)
A picture taken on July 31, 2020 shows Muslim worshippers throwing pebbles as part of the symbolic al-A'qabah (stoning of the devil ritual) at the Jamarat Bridge during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, near Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca. (File photo: AFP)

They will then perform the final Hajj rituals, which include: shaving their head (for male pilgrims), circumambulating around the Kaaba again, and stoning the devil.

Before leaving Mecca, the pilgrims will perform the “farewell tawaf” where they will walk around the Kaaba seven times to complete their pilgrimage.

Read more:

Hajj begins in Saudi Arabia under strict COVID-19 rules for second consecutive year

Ahead of Hajj, pilgrims around Saudi Arabia make their way to Jeddah

Saudi Arabia selects 60,000 people to perform Hajj amid ongoing COVID-19 rules