The holy city of Mecca and Medina will this year play host to only 10,000 pilgrims who are also residents of Saudi Arabia. This year’s pilgrimage was reviewed to allow only limited citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia due to the global Covid-19 Pandemic that forced countries and territories across the world to restrict movement into and out of their territories. Saudi Arabia also has its share of recorded cases.
Ordinarily, Mecca and Medina annually host around 2.5million pilgrims for the week long pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia authorities said the decision to reduce the number of pilgrims this year was to ensure that Hajj would be performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective. The country’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said the decision was taken in line with the teachings of Islam in preserving human lives.
But this is not the first time the annual Hajj is restricted. In 2014, the Saudi authorities halted issuance of Umrah and Hajj visas for citizens of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This was as a result of the outbreak of Ebola in subsaharan Africa that killed more than 11,000 before it was declared over in 2016.
In 1987, following United States’ interest and activities in the middle east, Iranians led some other Pilgrims to demonstrate which resulted in bloody clash between the pilgrims and Saudi police. The clash resulted in 400 deaths out of which over 200 were Iranians. The Iranian government described the death as massacre. This led to boycott of the annual pilgrimage between 1988 and 1990.
Also in 1979 the Grand Mosque was closed for not less than two weeks after a former Saudi soldier, Juhayman ibn Muhammad ibn Sayf al-Otaybi led armed group to take over the mosque.
The soldier had been critical of ruling family and moved for a return to what he called the original Islam.
The mosque was eventually retaken by Saudi forces.
Also in 1837 and 1846, pilgrimage was suspended due to serious cholera outbreaks
After the disease returned in 1865 in Hejaz, a region of Saudi Arabia that includes Mecca, an international conference was called in Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul.
It was decided that quarantine ports would be set up in places such as Sinai and Hejaz to help limit the spread of the disease, as pilgrims set on their journey to perform Hajj.
Between 1830 and 1930, there were at least 27 cholera outbreaks among pilgrims in Mecca.
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