Saudi Arabia does 'very limited' Hajj on pestilence

Saudi Arabia announced Monday that it is conducting a "very limited" Hajj this year, allowing travelers already in the state to perform annual rituals as they move to prevent the spread of the largest coronavirus in the Gulf.

The decision comes first in Saudi Arabia's modern history, where Muslims were banned outside the Hajj show, which attracted 2.5 million pilgrims last year.

The move to reassess the five-day program, which is due at the end of July, is full of political and economic turmoil and comes after several Muslim countries withdrew from the ritual, one of the main pillars of Islam.

The state Hajj Ministry said it was already open to various nationalities in Saudi Arabia, but did not specify the number.

The Saudi press agency quoted the ministry as saying "it is decided to organize a pilgrimage this year ... with different nationalities of the state".

"This decision is made to ensure that the Hajj is safely maintained from the point of view of public health ... and according to the teachings of Islam."

Hajj is essential for effective Muslims at least once in its lifetime, which is a major source of infection as it takes millions of pilgrims into crowded shrines.

The decision has now increased to more than 161,000 - the highest in the Gulf - and more than 1,300 people have died of infections in Saudi Arabia.

Despite the rise, Saudi Arabia on Sunday lifted restrictions on businesses, including theaters and other entertainment venues, to end the nightly coronavirus curfew across the state.

- Sensitive decisions -

The announcement of a limited Hajj operation will frustrate millions of Muslim pilgrims around the world, who will often invest their life savings and endure long lists of travel.

For the first time in recent history, it is the pleasure of indigenous pilgrims who have completely abolished the fear of ritual.

Omar Karim, a colleague at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told AFP: "Saudi Arabia has chosen a safe option that will protect the face of the Muslim world because they do not see it as a compromise on public health."

"But there are a lot of unanswered questions: how many pilgrims are allowed? What are the criteria for their choice? How many Saudis, how many non-Saudis?"

Saudi officials said the Hajj ministry would hold a news conference Tuesday to explain the details.

State media said it was supporting the government's efforts to secure the health and safety of Saudi Muslim League pilgrims in an attempt to gain religious approval for the decision.

This decision poses a risk to Muslims outside the state, for whom religion can lead to health problems.

This could inspire Saudi Arabian opponents to rethink the preservation of Islam's holy places - the most powerful source of political legitimacy.

A series of deadly disasters over the years, including the 2015 Stampede, which killed 2,300 worshipers, has criticized the state's handling of the Hajj.

- 'Hardest Year' -

The water-filled hajj represents a huge revenue loss for the state, which has already survived the two woes of a virus-induced recession and falling oil prices.

The Omar pilgrimage to the young year has already been halted in March.

According to government statistics, they add $ 12 billion to the Saudi economy every year.

American Enterprise Institute scholar Karen Young told AFP, "All areas of Saudi Arabia - oil, tourism, domestic consumption, and now revenues from Umrah and Hajj are declining."

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