Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Hajj

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Kaaba in July 2021, during COVID-19 restrictions

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the 2020 Hajj (pilgrimage), which is the fifth pillar of the Five Pillars of Islam,[1] where millions of Muslims from around the world visit Mecca and Medina every year during Hajj season for a week. Over 2,400,000 pilgrims attended Hajj in 2019.[2] Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 in crowded places, various international travel restrictions, and social distancing recommendations, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah advised Muslims to postpone their pilgrimage until the pandemic was mitigated.[3] However, in June 2020, the Ministry opened up Hajj to people of all nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia, with foreigners still banned from attending to ensure pilgrims' safety and prevent the transmission of COVID-19.[4][5]

In April 2022, Saudi Arabia eased COVID-19 restrictions and increased Hajj capacity. One million pilgrims from inside and outside the country are allowed to participate in the Hajj.[6]


The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing global pandemic caused by coronavirus disease 2019.[7] The outbreak of the virus was first noted in Wuhan, China in early December 2019.[8] On 30 January 2020, COVID-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization, and was declared a pandemic on 11 March 2020.[9][10] The transmission of COVID-19 occurs mainly through personal contact with a carrier of the virus, which makes it highly contagious in small spaces where human contact is inevitable.[11][12][13] COVID-19 can be transmitted through contaminated objects that were touched or coughed on by an infected person.[14][15][16]

Historical cancellations of Hajj[edit]

Hajj (pilgrimage) has been cancelled 40 times through the history of Islam due to disease outbreaks, political disagreements, and battles.[17][18] In 930-940 CE (318-328 AH), Hajj was canceled due to the Qarmatian attack, which led to the murder of 30,000 pilgrims and the looting of the Black Stone.[19][20] In 1831, Hajj was suspended after the arrival of Indian pilgrims in Mecca led to the outbreak of a new plague, which is claimed to have killed more than half of the pilgrims in Mecca.[20] The first outbreak of cholera in Mecca occurred in 1846, killing more than 15,000 and causing a citywide plague lasting until 1850. A second outbreak of cholera happened in 1858, leading to pilgrims being quarantined inside Hajj camps in Egypt.[18][21]

Hajj 2020[edit]

In February 2020, Saudi Arabia closed the two holy sites of Mecca and Medina to halt the spread of the virus, but reopened in early March. Later, measures were taken by the Saudi government to mitigate an outbreak of COVID-19, such as imposing a 24-hour curfew in Mecca and Medina.[22][23]

Participant selection[edit]

On 23 June 2020, Saudi Arabia announced Hajj would be held for a limited number of pilgrims who resided within the country due to the high risk of COVID-19.[24][25] The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah imposed restrictions to the type of pilgrims who can attend Hajj in 2020, only healthy Saudi residents between the ages of 20 and 50 with no COVID-19 symptoms were allowed to participate.[26][27][28] Participants had to first apply online, and preference was given to those who had not attended in the past.[29] Pilgrims were chosen from the COVID-19 recovery database, 70% of them were non-Saudi residents.[30]

Only ten thousand pilgrims were expected, as opposed to over two million in previous years.[31]

Safety measures[edit]

The Saudi Ministry of Health reported taking serious measures during the Hajj 2020. Pilgrims who were not affected by the virus were required to quarantine themselves at hotel rooms or at their homes if they lived close enough to Mecca for a week prior to the arrival to perform Hajj.[32] Inside the mosque, pilgrims were asked to maintain a safe social distance of two meters, and were separated into groups of 20 individuals who were accompanied by a guide through their whole Hajj performance.[33]

Hajj 2021[edit]

On 12 June 2021, Saudi authorities banned foreign visitors for the second consecutive year and limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 people. It also imposed as condition that people participating be between the ages of 18 and 65, vaccinated and without chronic diseases.[34][35]

International reactions[edit]

On 15 May 2020, the Singapore Muslims Council (MUIS) advised pilgrims to skip Hajj that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 2 June 2020, the Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs declared cancelling the 2020 Hajj before any groups of Indonesian pilgrims headed to Mecca.[36][37]

On 6 June 2020, the Indian Hajj Committee announced it would provide refunds to all the pilgrims who were unable to attend Hajj in 2020.[38][39]

On 11 June 2020, Malaysia announced it was barring pilgrims from attending Hajj in 2020 out of concerns over the danger of COVID-19, and the high spreadability of the virus in crowded places.[40][41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pillars of Islam - Oxford Islamic Studies Online". Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  2. ^ "Abstract of Hajj Statistics 1440 H" (PDF).
  3. ^ "Saudi Arabia asks Muslims to delay Hajj bookings". BBC News. 1 April 2020. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  4. ^ Hamdi Alkhshali; Larry Register (22 June 2020). "Saudi Arabia says Hajj pilgrimage is on -- with limited numbers". CNN. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  5. ^ "Ministry of Hajj and Umrah: Hajj 1441H Is Decided to Take Place This Year with Limited Number of Pilgrims from All Nationalities Residing in Saudi Arabia The official Saudi Press Agency". Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  6. ^ "Saudi Arabia to Allow 1 Million Hajj Pilgrims This Year". VOA. 8 April 2022. Retrieved 16 April 2022.
  7. ^ "Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) SITUATION REPORT" (PDF).
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  9. ^ "WHO announces COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic". Archived from the original on 26 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  10. ^ "The WHO Just Declared Coronavirus COVID-19 a Pandemic". Time. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  11. ^ April 2020, Tia Ghose-Assistant Managing Editor 07 (7 April 2020). "How are people being infected with COVID-19?". Retrieved 28 June 2020. {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
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  16. ^ "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 11 February 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  17. ^ "Hajj has been cancelled 40 times in history". The Siasat Daily. 14 April 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  18. ^ a b Chitwood, Ken (23 April 2020). "Hajj cancellation due to coronavirus is not the first time plague has disrupted this Muslim pilgrimage". The Conversation. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  19. ^ "The Hajj Has Been Canceled 40 Times In The History". The Islamic Information. 4 April 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  20. ^ a b Team, T. M. V. (2 April 2020). "A Brief Look At When Hajj Was Cancelled In History - TMV". Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  21. ^ "Hajj It has stopped in history more than 40 times .. Will it stop again because of Corona virus?". Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  22. ^ "Saudi Arabia reopens Mecca, Madinah holy sites after coronavirus closure". 6 March 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  23. ^ "Saudi Arabia reopens Mecca, Medina holy sites after coronavirus closure: state TV". Reuters. 6 March 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  24. ^ "Arab countries welcome Saudi Arabia's decision on Hajj 2020". Arab News. 23 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
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  26. ^ Hamdi Alkhshali; Larry Register (22 June 2020). "Saudi Arabia says Hajj pilgrimage is on -- with limited numbers". CNN. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  27. ^ Henley, Jon; Sherwood, Harriet; correspondent, Religion (23 June 2020). "Global report: Covid-19 restricts hajj and Germany locks down district". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  28. ^ "Saudi considers limiting hajj pilgrims amid coronavirus fears". Middle East Monitor. 9 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  29. ^ "Watch again: Pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia for first day of Hajj, as COVID-19 reshapes experience". euronews. Saudi Arabia. 29 July 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  30. ^ "Ministry of Hajj and Umrah: Selection of Hajj 2020 Pilgrims to Follow Rigorous Health Standards The official Saudi Press Agency". Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  31. ^ "Scaled back Hajj pilgrimage due to start". BBC News. 29 July 2020. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  32. ^ "Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia welcomes Hajj pilgrims under strict COVID-19 measures". Al Arabiya English. 25 July 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  33. ^ "Coronavirus: WHO chief hails Saudi Arabia's COVID-19 measures during Hajj". Al Arabiya English. 31 July 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  34. ^ "Saudi Arabia bars foreign pilgrims from Hajj due to COVID". Al Jazeera. 12 June 2021. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  35. ^ "Saudi Arabia Says Hajj Will Be Limited To 60,000 People, All From Within The Kingdom". NPR. 12 June 2021. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  36. ^ "Indonesia Cancels Hajj Pilgrimage, Citing Risks Of Travel During Pandemic". Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  37. ^ "'It's impossible': Indonesia holds firm on haj cancellation". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  38. ^ "Hajj cancelled for Indian pilgrims for this year; to receive full refund through direct transfer: Govt". 23 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  39. ^ "Coronavirus | Haj unlikely this year for Indian Muslims, say sources". The Hindu. PTI. 6 June 2020. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 28 June 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  40. ^ "Malaysia bars citizens from haj pilgrimage on coronavirus fears". Reuters. 11 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  41. ^ "Malaysia Joins Nations Pulling Out of Hajj Pilgrimage Over COVID-19 Concerns". BenarNews. Retrieved 28 June 2020.