Saudi Arabian authorities have banned international visitors from making the Islamic pilgrimage known as Hajj.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, this year’s annual pilgrimage will see a limited number of people already living in the Kingdom in attendance. Hajj is known for bringing around two to three million visitors per year, however, in efforts to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, hajj will look different than usual this year.

Hajj is one of the most important Islamic rituals. Muslims are expected to undergo the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime as part of the Five Pillars of Islam, along with Shahada (declaring belief in one God), Zakat (giving to charity), Salat (praying five times a day) and Sawm (fasting during Ramadan).

The pilgrimage takes place annually in the holy city of Mecca, during Dhu al-Hijjah, which is the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This year the pilgrimage will happen between the 28th July to the 2nd August. It is one of the largest gatherings of Muslims after the Arba’een pilgrimage which takes place Karbala, Iraq.

During the pilgrimage, Muslims are expected to take part in several significant rituals including walking counter clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam and the direction in which all Muslims pray towards, erected in the centre of the Great Mosque of Mecca.

Politics, War and Disease

After the coronavirus outbreak, many were worried that the Hajj pilgrimage would be cancelled. While the Hajj will continue this year, there are many instances throughout history that the religious gathering was halted.

From political discord to other viruses, the Hajj has been the subject of many disruptions dating back to thousands of years. In A.D. 930, a minority Shiite community known as the Ismailis raided Mecca believing it to be a pagan ritual.

Not that long after, in A.D. 983, Baghdad and Egypt were at war which took pilgrims away from Hajj for at least nine years.

Between 1837 – 1858, the Kingdon was inundated with plagues three times which halted the hajj three times.

In recent years, there have been minor disruptions to the pilgrimage, one of which was during the MERS outbreak which saw the country encouraging the ill and old to not participate. In 2017, over a million Qatari citizens were unable to partake in the gathering due to Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar and barring nationals from their country.

Aisha Mohamed