Hajj and Umrah during COVID-19

The recent announcement of the return of pilgrims from abroad to the Muslim holy places of Mecca and Medina offers an opportunity to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Hajj and Umrah. The Saudi government placed restrictions on the 2020 hajj pilgrimage to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In October, Saudi authorities will begin to allow pilgrims back in stages. Starting October 18, 15,000 Umrah pilgrims will be permitted to visit the holy sites per day. Visitors from abroad will be allowed to return from November 1, according to the current plan.

This is an image of the masjid al-haram during the 2010 hajj
Masjid al-Haram during 2010 Hajj

Typically, the Hajj attracts more than 2 million pilgrims from both Muslim majority and non-Muslim majority countries each year. Only around 1,000 pilgrims were allowed to attend Hajj this year due to the COVID-19 related restrictions, which also barred the entry of international travelers. Authorities required pilgrims to practice social distancing and wear masks while conducting pilgrimage rites. Pilgrims were also expected to undertake self-isolation before and after the pilgrimage. Other restrictions included banning pilgrims from touching the Kaaba. 

Hajj and Umrah

Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars. It is compulsory for Muslims who are physically well and can afford the journey. Hajj is only performed between the 8th and the 13th of Dhu al-Hijah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Umrah is the name given to a shorter version of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. It is voluntary, includes a less extensive set of rituals, and can be performed at any time of the year. 

Additional Resources

Explore the resources below for more on the Hajj and the impact of COVID-19.

Virtual Hajj from PBS

This Pandemic Isn’t the First Time the Hajj Has Been Disrupted for Muslims from Smithsonian Magazine

Interactive: See How COVID-19 Has Dramatically Changed Hajj Pilgrimage

Evan Murphy

DISC Program Coordinator