Muslim pilgrims began arriving at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage on Wednesday. But amid the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Hajj has been dramatically downsized.
Normally attracting more than two million people each year, this year’s Hajj has been limited to just 10,000 pilgrims, with only those resident in Saudi Arabia invited to attend.
Some 70 percent of the pilgrims are foreigners living in the kingdom, while the rest are Saudi citizens, according to the government.
The Saudi government held an online lottery to decide which lucky few would be allowed to take part in the Hajj, leading to jubilation for the lucky few and bitter disappointment for many others.
"The moment I saw my name accepted I prostrated to God to thank him. I can’t forget this moment at all, to be among the people who will go to the Hajj. I have never been to the Hajj before. Thanks to God this year I will,” Nasser Younes Solebarmo a Nigerian expatriate in Riyadh told AFP.
"It’s a really sad and painful feeling,” said Farah Abu Shanab, a Palestinian expatriate in Saudi Arabia, who was not selected. “The only thing which gives me patience is that, thank God, the government is holding the pilgrimage, even with a limited number.”
Those who are able to take part in the five-day pilgrimage must follow strict hygiene measures including wearing masks and practising social distancing.
All worshippers arriving in Mecca must also undergo coronavirus testing and go into quarantine after the pilgrimage.