Hajj 2020: ‘The experience beats all expectations’ – Japanese couple

The faithful perform the key ritual of throwing seven pebbles at a stone monument called “Jamrat Al-Aqabah” in the holy site of Mina

“Despite the pandemic’s effects, it has proved at the same time peoples’ resolve in the face of disasters and epidemics” – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz

MUZDALIFA, Saudi Arabia, 31 July, 2020  – Hajj pilgrims, in  protective face masks and observing social distancing, performed the rituals of the third day of the major Islamic pilgrimage on Friday, the start of Eid Al-Adha, a major feast observed by Muslims worldwide. The number of pilgrims for this year’s Hajj has been dramatically reduced to ensure social distancing measures are adhered to, as a preventative measure in the face of the Coronavirus.

On, Friday, the 10th of Dhul Hijjah in the Islamic calendar, pilgrims headed from the holy site of Muzdalifah to Jamarat Al-Aqaba in Mina to perform the rituals of the third day of the pilgrimage. These include the symbolic ritual of ‘Stoning the Devil’, *where they throw seven pebbles at the largest of the three pillars, known as Jamrat Al-Aqabah*.  The ritual begins at dawn. The pilgrims also perform prayers throughout the day.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pilgrimage this year is limited to citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia, who met certain conditions, including those of multiple quarantine procedures. Pilgrims comprised 160 nationalities and hail from within Saudi Arabia. Expatriate residents make up for 70% of the total number of pilgrims, with citizens make up for the remaining 30%. The number of pilgrims for this year’s Hajj has been drastically reduced as a precaution in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hajj officially started on the 8th of Dhul Hijjahor Wednesday, July 29, and lasts until the 12th of Dhul Hijjah, or August 2, although some pilgrims perform Hajj on the 13th of the same Islamic month, corresponding to August 3 this year. Friday, the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, marks the third day of Hajj, as well as the start of Eid Al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).

Jamarat Al-Aqabah

On the third day of Hajj, pilgrims spent the night in the holy site of Muzdalifah amid strict safety measures. They headed to Mina, another holy site near Makkah, to throw Jamrat Al Aqaba amid tight security and social-distancing norms.

At dawn, following arrival in Mina valley from Muzdalifa, the pilgrims head to Jamarat Al-Aqabah to perform the symbolic ‘Stoning of the Devil’, where they throw seven pebbles in succession at all three stone pillars, while praising the Almighty Allah.

As part of the third-day rituals, men shave their heads or get a haircut while women too cut their hair. The slaughter of sacrificial animals also starts on the third day of Hajj, which marks the start of Eid Al-Adha.

Following the stone-throwing ritual, the pilgrim enjoys the right to remove his Ihram garments and replace it with his regular attire. Pilgrims then move to the Grand Mosque in Makkah for encircling Tawaf of Ifadah, a key Hajj pillar. One of the key rituals is to perform Tawaf, where the pilgrims walk counter-clockwise around the Kaaba seven times.

After the Tawaf, it is permissible for the pilgrim to feel free of all restrictions of Ihram, before returning to Mina, to stay the next two to three days. 

All pilgrims arrived at Mina after their stay at Arafat mount valley, overnight in Muzdalifah and performing Tawaf Al-Ifadah at the Grand Holy Mosque, “within an atmosphere full of spirituality and faith in accordance with applying precautionary standards and preventive measures,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

On the fourth day of Hajj on Monday, pilgrims return at noon to stone all the three pillars at Jamrat Al-Aqabah and on the fifth day, they throw pebbles at the pillars a third time. Then they are free to leave the holy site of Mina for Makkah before sunset.

Tawaf Al Wada, or Farewell Tawaf, is the last rite of Hajj, is performed before leaving Makkah.

King’s Speech

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, ina speech on Friday to citizens, residents, pilgrims and all Muslims worldwide congratulated them for Eid Al-Adha. The King’s speech was carried by SPA and read out by Acting Minister of Media H.E. Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi.

“I pray to Allah Almighty to reward everyone who intends to perform Hajj this year and could not do,” King Salman said.

“I wish this Eid to be the first sign of augurs well by receding the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, and then its disappearance sooner rather than later, and that the holidays of Muslims always expressing the tolerant message of Islam in communicating and cooperating with the whole world to achieve peace and stability.”

“Dear Citizens,

The world is going through exceptional and difficult circumstances, where this pandemic afflicted the whole world, and we are part of it, as this pandemic spread and cast its effects on humanity, afflicted humanity with adversity, and exacerbated the difficulties. Despite the pandemic’s effects, it has proved at the same time peoples’ resolve in the face of disasters and epidemics.

“This pandemic has clearly demonstrated that citizens and residents of this dear homeland are of a high degree of persistence and determination in the face of disasters, by their faith in Allah, then by their strong will and their cooperation with the concerned agencies. This has contributed to alleviating the effects of this pandemic on our homeland as much as possible, by following precautionary and preventive measures, for the sake of the safety of humans. For this, thank you all very much for your patience, dedication, cooperation, and loyalty to your homeland.”

King Salman, addressing Muslims worldwide, said: “One of the most important purposes of our tolerant Sharia is to preserve human life, protect it from harm, and spare it from danger. With the outbreak of the pandemic and its gravity to humans, Hajj was held this year with a very limited number of pilgrims of multiple nationalities, to emphasize the holding of the rite, despite the difficult circumstances, and to preserve at the highest safety standards for pilgrims to perform their rituals in a spiritual atmosphere, within procedures that guarantee their security, achieve their safety, provide means of comfort by the agencies concerned with serving and protecting pilgrims, protect the pilgrims from the risks of the pandemic. We appreciate the high trust of our Muslim brothers in what we have taken in this regard.

“Allah has blessed us with the Two Holy Mosques in our country, and honored us that this land to be a destination for pilgrims every year. The care and services of pilgrims have become among our most important goals and our greatest interests, and an honor we are proud of, it is a mandate that we seek to do to the fullest, and with the highest standards, year after year. We have provided for pilgrims an integrated system of giant projects and many services, in Makkah, holy sites and Madinah, to continue blessed efforts made by the Kings of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since the reign of the late founder King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud.”

Addressing the pilgrims, King Salman said: “Holding Hajj during this pandemic, even with reducing the numbers of pilgrims, it has obliged various official agencies to double their efforts in addition to direct supervision and reassurance on the conduct of Hajj and the safety and comfort of pilgrims, as well as working to implement the maximum health requirements for dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, including keenness on social distancing. I pray to Allah Almighty sincerely to reward those who have contributed to the efforts of Hajj and serving pilgrims.

“I pray to Allah Almighty to help our brothers, the pilgrims, to complete their rituals in these few days with ease, comfort, security, health and safety…

“I commend our nation’s soldiers who defend our homeland in the best forms of heroism, courage and valor in order to protect its borders, or those who curb the spread the Coronavirus pandemic, or in the service of citizens and residents always in all circumstances.

I ask Allah Almighty to grant them success, to grant our dear homeland, citizens and residents security, safety, health and reassurance, and to protect all humanity.”

‘Our world is experiencing exceptional circumstances’                                  

Eid Al-Adha prayer was performed at the Grand Holy Mosque in Makkah, with pilgrims committing to comply with all rules and measures. The sermon, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), was delivered by Imam of the Grand Holy Mosque Sheikh Dr. Abdullah bin Awwad Al-Juhani.

“Our world is experiencing exceptional circumstances this year resulting from the spread of the coronavirus [Covid-19] and the dangers associated with it,” Al-Juhani said. “Consequently, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, may Allaah grant him continued protection – made the decision to let a limited number of worshippers perform Hajj this year. The decision was made to ensure the safety of those performing Hajj, and safeguarding people’s lives is one of Islaam’s major objectives.”

“The basic principles of Islaam direct us to avert harms before they occur, and to also strive to remove them if they have set in,” Al-Juhani added.

WHO praises KSA health protocols

During the Hajj daily roundup, Dr. Muhammad Al-Abd Al-Aali, Assistant Minister of Health and official spokesman for the Ministry of Health, assured the public that the pilgrims’ health status is reassuring. He said that all health protocols are in place to ensure the Hajj pilgrims’ safety.

Six hospitals have been earmarked in the holy sites for serving the pilgrims during Hajj, along with 51 clinics, 200 ambulances and 62 field teams, while 8,000 health cadres were also serving the pilgrims, according to Dr. Al-Abd Al-Aali. The total clinical capacity at the holy sites was 1,456 beds, including 272 ICU beds, 331 isolation beds and 200 emergency beds.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, congratulated Saudi Arabia on the measures taken to ensure utmost safety of pilgrims, SPA reported.

“It is a perfect example of what countries could do in order to adapt themselves to the new situation, and coexist with the virus and protect the lives of people,” the WHO chief was quoted as saying.

 ‘Hajj experience was beyond our expectations’

Talking about their experience, Zineb el Farissi and her husband Yasser el Farissi, from Japan, said:

The whole hajj experience was beyond expected. Applying for Hajj this year amid the pandemic was special indeed. However, when we heard about all the precautions and preparations taken by the Saudi Government to secure a safe journey for pilgrims, we did not hesitate to applyAlhamdulillah when we got accepted it was a true joy, and we were very excited to be take part of this lifetime pilgrim journey.

Shortly after being accepted, we were contacted by the Ministry of Hajj who have explained the whole process in a very clear way, and guided us through all the preparations, and precautions that we have to take for Hajj.

We were then contacted by the Ministry of Health, who guided us through the steps of doing the necessary health checks including the Meningitis vaccine and of Course the COVID-19 test. After this we were asked to follow a period of strict quarantine at home to ensure our safety and the safety of other participants.

We then moved to Makkah on Saturday (July 25) to complete our quarantine here at the hotel. The journey from Riyadh to Makkah was very smooth, with exemplary hospitality at the hotel. The team lead from the organizers are constantly communicating with us and providing all the support and help on every aspect of our stay.”

“So far [the] organization is beyond our expectations. Everything is well prepared and thought of. Jazza Allah khayran all the organizers either from Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Ministry of Health or Ministry of Media. And Lastly I feel really blessed to have being chosen for the Hajj this year and I’m very grateful to God and to the Saudi Government for all the hospitality.

Alyssa, a Bosnian pilgrim was quoted by SPA as saying: “My happiness overwhelms me due to my participation in this extraordinary pilgrimage season this year and for getting an opportunity to do so,” noting the preventive measures taken by the Kingdom to limit the spread of the Corona COVID-19 pandemic were “wonderful and amazing.” She praised the efforts made by the government of King Salman and HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman towards the Two Holy Mosques and the Holy Sites.

Hajj Omar Al-Ezzo expressed his happiness and his indescribable feeling for performing the Hajj pilgrimage, praising the “distinguished organization the pilgrims touched”. He said schedules were distributed to pilgrims to clarify the transition times from one holy site to another, and health escorts were allocated to each regiment. Al-Ezzo thanked the Kingdom’s leadership, government and people for the efforts made to achieve a safe and healthy Hajj.


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