Muslim pilgrims to the annual Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, will this year have to adhere to health restrictions brought on by the global Covid-19 pandemic. But they could also face an age limit restriction due to the virus, which could lock out some people.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs traditionally releases information and guidelines regarding Hajj, which are then communicated to the country’s diplomatic missions abroad. It is yet to do so.
This year’s Hajj will begin on July 28 and end on August 2, when pilgrims travel to Mecca, Mina, Arafat and Medina for the observance of the fifth pillar of Islam.
According to Abdulla Talib Abdulla, Zanzibar’s executive secretary of the Waqf and Trust Commission, “the pilgrims are to be subjected to stricter travel restrictions this time around before they enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and other social distancing restrictions while shuttling between the holy sites.”
Speaking to The EastAfrican in a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr Abdulla said although Saudi Arabia is yet to issue an official statement on the same, he consulted the Tanzanian High Commissioner to the country, Ali Jabir Mwadini, who said there is talk of having an age limit of up to 60 years, because the disease has been reported to be more severe in the elderly.
“We are waiting for the Holy Month of Shaaban or Ramadhan when we will be informed by Saudi Arabia if any restrictions will be imposed, including the unconfirmed vaccine control measure,” added Mr Abdulla.
It costs an average Zanzibari $4,000 to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and with travel restrictions this could increase.
Mr Abdulla, who is also the Zanzibar government’s contact person for Hajj matters, said he expects a drop in the number of pilgrims from Zanzibar even if the cost was to increase to $6,000.
Zanzibar sends an average of 1,500 pilgrims annually.
Last year’s Hajj had an unprecedentedly low turnout of only 1,000 pilgrims, from the usual high of two million people, due to concerns over the pandemic.
Sub-Saharan Africans account for at least 10 per cent of the Muslims who make the annual Islam’s holiest sites annually.