Mecca reopens for limited “Umrah” pilgrimage

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Saudi Arabia suspended umrah in March for fear of the coronavirus spreading. (File)

Mecca:

Muslims dressed in masks circled the holiest place in Islam on socially distant paths on Sunday when the Saudi authorities partially resumed the year-round Umrah pilgrimage after a seven-month break from the corona virus.

Thousands of devotees entered the Great Mosque in the holy city of Mecca in groups to perform the ritual of circling the holy Kaaba, a cubic structure that Muslims around the world pray to.

The umrah, the pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time, usually attracts millions of Muslims from around the world each year, but was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It will be revived in three phases, with Saudi Hajj minister Mohammad Benten saying last week that 6,000 pilgrims per day are allowed to perform the umrah “meticulously and within a certain period” in the first phase.

A number of precautions were taken to contain outbreaks during the Umrah, according to state media.

The venerated black stone in the eastern corner of the Kaaba, which one usually, but not necessarily, has to touch during the pilgrimage, is inaccessible while the Great Mosque is sterilized before and after each group of believers.

Each group of 20 or 25 pilgrims will be accompanied by health workers and medical teams will be on site in an emergency, Benten said.

In the second phase from October 18, the number of Umrah pilgrims will be increased to 15,000 per day, with a maximum of 40,000 people, including pilgrims and other worshipers, allowed to pray in the mosque.

Visitors from abroad will be admitted in the third phase from November 1st, when the capacity is increased to 20,000 or 60,000.

The decision to continue the pilgrimage was in response to the “aspirations of Muslims at home and abroad” to perform the ritual and visit holy sites, the Interior Ministry said last month.

It added that the umrah would be allowed to return to full capacity once the pandemic threat subsided.

Until then, the Ministry of Health will review countries from which pilgrims are allowed to enter due to the health risks.

Saudi Arabia suspended the umrah in March and reduced the annual hajj over fears that the coronavirus could spread to the holiest cities in Islam.

The Hajj took place in late July on the smallest scale in modern history. Only up to 10,000 Muslims were allowed to participate – far from the 2.5 million who attended last year.

(This story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

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