Only 1,000 People Will Hajj to Mecca This Year — and Face Masks, Quarantine, and Special Prayer Rugs Are Required

Coronavirus has made this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca one of the most unique on record.

Only 1,000 people have been given permission to visit Islam’s holiest site in this year’s hajj. The pilgrimage is typically performed by Muslims, follows the route of the Prophet Muhammad from nearly 1,400 years ago.

Saudi authorities have slightly altered tradition to maintain health standards by providing worshipers with their own prayer rugs and attire laced with “silver nano technology,” which helps kill bacteria, according to a press release from the Saudi Press Agency. Participants will only be allowed to drink water from the sacred Zamzam well that is prepackaged in plastic bottles. Pebbles typically picked up by pilgrims along Hajj routes to cast away evil were sterilized and bagged.

Pilgrims were also provided with soap, sanitizer, and towels before the Hajj began.

Typically, around this time, Mecca, Saudi Arabia is crowded with more than two million people standing shoulder-to-shoulder to pray around the cube-shaped Kaaba at the city’s Grand Mosque. But this year’s hajjis are practicing social distancing, wearing face masks and enjoying rare elbow room while performing rituals.

International travelers have been barred from this year’s Hajj, so only those residing in Saudi Arabia are participating. Those selected for the pilgrimage are aged between 20 and 50. About 70 percent are foreign residents of Saudi Arabia and the rest are Saudi nationals.

The selection process was conducted through an online portal. Applicants must not have had any terminal illnesses and couldn’t have shown COVID-19 symptoms. Pilgrims were required to test for coronavirus and then given wristbands that monitored their movement. Ahead of the hajj’s start, they were required to quarantine in their hotel rooms in Mecca.

They will also be required to quarantine for a week when the hajj ends on Sunday.

“Words aren’t enough to explain how blessed I feel and how amazing the arrangements have been,” Ammar Khaled, a 29-year-old Indian pilgrim who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, told The Associated Press. “They have taken every possible precaution.”