Makkah slowly stirred from a seven-month hibernation on Sunday. Pilgrims trickled in after Saudi authorities partially lifted a coronavirus ban on performing umrah.
Umrah is a pilgrimage to Islam’s two holiest sites that can be performed at any time of year.
Millions of Muslims from around the world usually descend on Saudi Arabia for the umrah and haj Islamic pilgrimages. The two share common rites, but the hajj is the main lengthier ritual. Hajj is held once a year.
Umrah pilgrims & COVID-19
Saudi Arabia has allowed citizens and residents to start performing umrah as of Sunday 6,000 pilgrims a day. It will open for Muslims from abroad starting November 1.
Last year the Gulf state drew 19 million umrah visitors.
“All of Makkah is happy today, it’s like the end of a jail term. We have missed the spiritual feeling of pilgrims roaming the city,” said Yasser al-Zahrani. He became a full-time Uber driver after losing his construction job during a three-month national lockdown imposed in March.
“It was a nightmare … there was barely any work to cover my bills,” he told Reuters.
Before the pandemic, over 1,300 hotels and hundreds of stores buzzed around the clock to cater to pilgrims.
Now many are closed, the windows of some gathering dust.
At midnight, tens of registered pilgrims wearing face masks prepared to enter the Grand Mosque in small groups.
“This year has been heavy and full of tragedies. I am praying for God’s forgiveness for all mankind,” said Eman, a Pakistani national. He resides in Saudi Arabia, accompanied by her daughter.
Meanwhile, officials made sure they kept a safe distance apart.
Meanwhile, worshippers are no longer allowed to touch the Kaaba, draped in black cloth adorned with Arabic calligraphy in gold.
Some enjoyed a respite from the usual crowding. “This is the easiest umrah I have ever made,” said a Saudi who identified himself as Abu Fahad.
In February this year, Saudi Arabia had placed a temporary ban on Umrah pilgrims for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. The move from the Saudi government follows the confirmation of two coronavirus cases in Pakistan. The measure came at a time when there had been an increase in the number of cases in the Middle East.
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