Hajj and Eid al-Adha: is nothing as it once was?
The Hajj began on Tuesday, shortly before the Islamic Eid al-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice, under strict regulations and with only around 1,000 pilgrims, all from within Saudi Arabia. In normal times more than 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world travel to Mecca to pray and eat together during the pilgrimage. Commentators explain how the coronavirus pandemic is changing the Hajj and the Sacrifice Feast.
Bad for Saudi Arabia's image and economy
The dramatically reduced Hajj pilgrimage is a bitter blow for the country, Polityka comments:
“Quite apart from the religious significance of the pilgrimage, which is obligatory for every Muslim at least once in their life (unless their state of health or lack of means does not allow it), it is an important opportunity for the ultra-conservative kingdom to take on the role of a soft power - and also inject cash into the national economy. It is estimated that Saudi Arabia and the tourism and hotel industry in the holy city earn up to 12 billion dollars a year through pilgrimages - and about 8 billion dollars in the week of the Sacrifice Feast alone.”
Kingdom in deep crisis
The fact that Saudi Arabia hasn't cancelled the pilgrimage despite the pandemic shows just how bad a state the kingdom is in, France Inter says:
“The Hajj feeds everyday business: hotels, markets, transport, souvenir shops, tour guides, restaurants. ... In other words: in a country already badly hit by the drop in oil prices, normal Saudis in particular are suffering. ... At the moment nothing is going right for Saudi Arabia: its foreign policy initiatives are a disaster, from Yemen to Libya to the Qatar blockade. Not to mention the scandal surrounding the murdered journalist Khashoggi, which has ruined the regime's image. And the worst may be yet to come: King Salman is 84 years old and has been hospitalised for a gall bladder inflammation since July 20. He's only been on the throne for five years. And who can say today that his succession is assured in the person of his son?”
An empty ritual
The practice of showing devotion to Allah with ritual sacrifice at Eid al-Adha and distributing the meat to families, neighbours and the needy is also gradually losing its significance due to coronavirus, the Islamic conservative daily Yeni Şafak laments:
“As we understand it, part of the ritual sacrifice includes the person who carries out the sacrifice staying with the bleeding animal and creating the right circumstances for family members to appreciate this devout act. ... In the pandemic people are being advised to carry out the procedure in a hygienic environment, without bodily contact and while maintaining a safe distance. The result is that with increasing frequency someone is commissioned to carry out the sacrifice by proxy, without the sacrificer even seeing the sacrificial animal. Even in normal times, the custom of commissioning a sacrifice and then going on holiday has become so widespread that one must question to what extent this can be compatible with Islamic norms.”