Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that 1 million Muslims from inside and outside the country will be allowed to participate in this year’s hajj.
This is a significant increase after two years of drastically reduced pilgrimages due to pandemic restrictions.
The hajj ministry said in a statement that “1 million pilgrims, both foreign and domestic, have been authorized to perform the hajj this year.”
The hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars, and all Muslims with the financial means must perform it at least once in their lives. In 2019, about 2.5 million people attended one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.
However, after the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, Saudi authorities only allowed 1,000 pilgrims to take part.
The following year, they increased the number of fully vaccinated citizens and residents to 60,000, who were chosen through a lottery.
According to Saturday’s announcement, this year’s hajj will be limited to vaccinated pilgrims under the age of 65.
Those arriving from outside Saudi Arabia must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of their arrival.
According to a statement released on Saturday, the government wants to promote pilgrim safety “while ensuring that the maximum number of Muslims worldwide can perform the hajj.”
Limits are being relaxed
The hajj is a five-day religious pilgrimage that takes place in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and the surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.
The custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites is the most powerful source of political legitimacy for Saudi rulers, so hosting the hajj is a matter of prestige for them.
Prior to the pandemic, Muslim pilgrimages were a major source of revenue for the kingdom, bringing in roughly $12 billion per year.
The restrictions in 2020 and 2021 stoked resentment among Muslims who were barred from entering the United States.
According to health ministry data, more than 751,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in the kingdom of approximately 34 million people, with 9,055 deaths.
It announced in early March that most COVID restrictions, such as social distancing in public spaces and quarantine for vaccinated arrivals, would be lifted, easing the arrival of Muslim pilgrims.
Suspending “social distancing measures in all open and closed places,” including mosques, was part of the decision, while masks are now only required in closed spaces.