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First ‘normal’ Covid-era Hajj brings overwhelming joy

by Zahid Jadwat

Pilgrims participating in the first ‘normal’ Hajj of the post-Covid era expressed overwhelming joy. This was as the first day drew to a close at Mina on Thursday.

About one million people from all walks of life descended on the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, where they performed initial rituals before proceeding to Mina. At Mina, commonly known as the ‘City of Tents’, they engaged in worship.

The largest Hajj since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Hajj was still smaller than 2019. The Kingdom restricted the pilgrimage to vaccinated Muslims under the age of 65.

“I must say shukr to Allah that finally, we have been afforded the opportunity of being back here on the plains of Mina and Arafah,” said Ruwaida Kotwal. She is the Head of Hajj Logistics at Khidmatul Awaam Pilgrim Services.

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One South African pilgrim, Malikah Railoun, held back tears as she spoke of her experience. Malikah and her husband from Cape Town had been accredited to attend the pilgrimage before the pandemic upended their plans. Sadly, her husband passed on after contracting Covid-19.

“What I understand is that Makkah has also been mentioned as ‘Bakkah’ – a place where you find inner reflection. I definitely think I found it here. [My husband] passed on and I was alone, scared, anxious. Leaving my 12-year-old son. But I put my trust in Allah,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mufti Ebrahim Smith expressed relief at being able to perform Hajj without the hindrance of Covid-19 protocols.

“We didn’t know what to expect. The atmosphere is quite electric – people are so full of energy. The environment itself is normal. You hardly see people with masks. Everything is like it was [during the] pre-Covid period,” he said.

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Kotwal, whose organisation is responsible for 715 pilgrims, spoke of her experience facilitating the Hajj on the ground.

“Hajj is a journey of lots of sabr, lots of challenges, but more than that, it is a spiritual journey of an individual. An individual needs that time to bond with his Creator,” she said, adding, “The journey is something so special and so different for every individual.”

“These are 715 different personalities, each wanting to discover and experience Hajj in a different light,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Arab Parliament, Adel Al-Asoumi, on Thursday praised the efforts of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to facilitate all services for pilgrims.

On Thursday, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah ousted the CEO and head of another Hajj operator over claims that pilgrims did not receive proper treatment.

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