Pilgrims will begin to arrive in the Muslim holy city of Mecca on Saturday for the second downsized hajj staged during the coronavirus pandemic with only fully vaccinated residents permitted to participate.
The kingdom seeks to repeat last year’s success that saw no virus outbreak during the five-day ritual but nonetheless caused resentment among Muslims abroad.
It is allowing 60,000 residents of Saudi Arabia to participate through a lottery, higher than in 2020 but drastically lower than in normal times. Religious rites will begin on Sunday.
Among the chosen ones was Ameen, a 58-year-old Indian oil contractor based in the eastern city of Dammam, who was picked for the ritual along with his wife and three adult children.
“We are overjoyed,” said Ameen, who only gave his first name.
“So many of our friends and relatives were rejected,” he told AFP.
In 2019, some 2.5 million Muslims from around the world participated in the annual hajj – a key pillar of Islam that is a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime.
Earlier this month, the hajj ministry said it was working on the “highest levels of health precautions” in light of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants.
Like the other countries of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia is home to significant expatriate populations from South Asia, the Far East, Africa as well as the Middle East.
“I feel like I won a lottery,” Egyptian pharmacist Mohammed El Eter said after being selected.
“This is a special, unforgettable moment in one’s life. I thank God for granting me this chance, to be accepted among a lot of people who applied,” the 31-year-old told AFP.