Saudi Arabia announced it would hold a “very limited” haj this year, with pilgrims already in the kingdom allowed to perform the annual ritual as it moves to curb the biggest COVID-19 outbreak in the Gulf.
The decision marks the first time in Saudi Arabia’s modern history that Muslims outside the kingdom are barred from performing the haj, which last year drew 2.5 million pilgrims.
The move to scale back the five-day event, scheduled for the end of July, is fraught with political and economic peril and comes after several Muslim nations pulled out of the ritual that forms one of the main pillars of Islam.
The haj, a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, could be a major source of contagion as it packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites.
The decision comes as Saudi Arabia grapples to contain a major spike in infections, which have now risen to over 161,000 – the highest in the Gulf – and over 1,300 deaths.