Millions of Muslims flock to Mecca every year. Because of the corona pandemic, the number of participants was drastically reduced this year. Strict rules apply to the few chosen pilgrims.

By Carsten Kühntopp, ARD studio Cairo

A mass event becomes a mini-event: Last year, 2.5 million believers took part in the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. It will be significantly less this year. According to media reports, between 1,000 and 10,000 people are admitted.

The Saudi minister responsible, Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Bentin, said that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “wants to enable Muslims of all nationalities and ideologies to fulfill the fifth pillar of the five pillars of Islam”. But: “The international health conditions forced us to this extraordinary Hajj this year.”

Only Saudis and foreigners living in the country are eligible

Of the officially 1,000 believers who are now allowed to participate in the Hajj, 30 percent are Saudis. People were selected who work in the health sector or in the security forces and who have survived a corona infection. Their participation in the Hajj is a sign of appreciation for their commitment to fighting the virus, the government said.

The other 70 percent are foreigners who live and work in the country and come from 160 countries – people like Hakan, a teacher from Turkey who teaches in Riyadh and can hardly believe his luck: “We are so happy and excited to be there It’s very important to us and we thank God for this gift. “

Stoning the devil only with sterilized pebbles

Guarding the two most important sacred sites in Islam – the mosques in Mecca and Medina – is a source of political legitimacy for the Saudi royal family. Canceling the hajj would have been like losing face. Instead, the Saudi authorities now want to implement a detailed hygiene concept.

“We make sure that the protection measures against infection are at the highest level,” said Sari Assiri from the Ministry of Health. “Hand disinfection, face masks, keeping a distance – and pilgrims receive health advice while on the buses until they reach the quarantine areas in Mecca.”

Before the arrival, the pilgrims had to comply with a seven-day quarantine, after arrival in Mecca another four days followed in quarantine. Everyone must bring their own prayer mat, the Kaaba, the cuboid building in the courtyard of the Holy Mosque, must not be touched. And for the ritual stoning of the devil in Mina, only sterilized pebbles may be used that have already been given to each pilgrim in a sachet.

Saudi economy hit hard

The big Hajj pilgrimage, just a mini-event, the Omrah, the small pilgrimage, was completely canceled this year because of Corona – the Saudi economy will miss revenue of around $ 12 billion.

The pandemic has hit the country harder than others in the region. In addition to the currently 266,000 registered infections, 3000 to 4000 new cases are added every day. The kingdom reacted with a hard lockdown – and choked off its economy, which was already hard hit because of the low oil prices.

Deutschlandfunk reported on this topic on July 29, 2020 at 9:48 a.m. and tagesschau24 at 11:00 a.m.