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How COVID-19 Shaped The 2022 Hajj

By Aisha Ali

Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage, is one of the major international events gravely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that locked down the world. When the deadly viral disease debuted in Wuhan, China in December 2019, not many envisaged its attendant consequences would lead to the suspension of international pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest city for two consecutive years.

In an unprecedented manner in recent history, the devastating effect of the pandemic forced the Saudi authorities in 2020 and 2021, to suspend millions of international pilgrims from the annual hajj; suspend the hitherto 24/7 all-year-round lesser hajj (umrah), and shut down the two Islam’s holiest mosques—the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Holy Prophet Mosque in Madinah—among others.

All these preemptive measures were taken to protect the lives of pilgrims who throng the kingdom to perform the hajj.

Generally, the pandemic has dramatically altered people’s daily lives for the first time. It triggered an economic recession in many countries, and ruined multi-billion dollar conglomerates and businesses, apart from the human fatalities it recorded.

To curb the transmission of the virus, governments in many countries, regions, and localities have implemented strict policies of social distancing, shelter in place (i.e., working from home or just staying at home), use of facemasks, mandatory vaccines, and more. These policies, together with more voluntary behaviour changes, have resulted in unprecedented shifts in human activities in a very short period, such as reduced travel, cutting down on many business activities, and an increase in time spent at home. Of course, the performance of religious pilgrimages was no exemption from the impact of the pandemic.

Hajj 2022 is coming after the lifting of a two-year suspension. The dynamics introduced by the post-COVID-19 era didn’t spare Hajj, which sees the convergence of more than three million people from all over the world in one place.

The Saudi authorities imitated many policies for the 2022 hajj, which almost disrupted the free flow of intending pilgrims from many parts of the world, including Nigeria.

New challenges were introduced, forcing changes in the way the pilgrimage is performed.

Therefore, the post-COVID-19 Hajj 2022 is associated with a lot of challenges and behavioural changes, including the following:

Firstly, the mandatory COVID-19 PCR test, 72 hours before departure, doesn’t go down quite well with pilgrims after taking the 2 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and a booster dose.

Secondly, the decimated number of pilgrims, due to the limited quota allocated by the Saudi Arabian authorities, makes the post-COVID-19 Hajj less populated.

Thirdly, the post-COVID-19 Hajj doesn’t escape the inflation surging all over the world which is evident in the fact that buying of gifts items for loved ones at home and also the rush for “Golden Teeth” by pilgrims is low in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Fourthly, the post-COVID-19 Hajj has also witnessed the introduction of smart technology that assists pilgrims in carrying out Hajj rituals and also enables pilgrims to chat with their service provider to report any violation or file a complaint.

Fifthly, compliance with the use of facemasks and social distancing is less emphasized, especially in Haram (Prophet’s mosque), which has large gatherings during the five daily prayers. However, it is noteworthy that instead of the use of facemasks, most women use the naqib, which is a piece of clothing used to cover the faces of women who are in purdah, as a facemask too.

Another post-COVID-19 Hajj challenge is the exemption of people over the age of 65 years from participating in the 2022 Hajj.

This is not to mention the economic changes it brought. For instance, I bought this pen I’m writing this article with for 3 Saudi riyals, which is equivalent to 525 Naira in my beloved country, Nigeria.

The changes have made even Hajj veterans naïve in 2022. It was a 360-degree change. These changes will continue evolving.

However, these challenges and changes have made the pilgrimage interesting and served as further tests of the pilgrims’ dedication to their faith. It takes a dedicated pilgrim to brave the odds and ensure the performance of this all-important religious obligation, and it is no exaggeration to say that Nigerian pilgrims are doing well in this regard.

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Mrs. Ali is a NAHCON Desk Officer, National Orientation Agency (NOA), and a member of the 2022 Hajj Media Team.

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