New at Saudi Haj: Bottled holy water, sterilised pebbles

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia has issued guidelines for about 1,000 pilgrims who will be allowed to perform the Haj pilgrimage in Makkah later this month, an experience that will be unlike any before because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The pilgrims will only be able to drink holy water from the Zamzam well in Makkah that is packaged in plastic bottles, and pebbles for casting away evil that are usually picked up by pilgrims along haj routes will be sterilised and bagged ahead of time. Pilgrims will also have to bring their own prayer rugs.

The guidelines were announced on Monday as Saudi authorities prepare for a very limited Haj, which for the first time will not include pilgrims from outside the country.

Instead, the kingdom said that 70 per cent of pilgrims allowed to make the pilgrimage this year will be from among foreign residents of Saudi Arabia and 30 per cent would be Saudi citizens.

Saudi pilgrims will be selected from among healthcare workers and security personnel who have recovered from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. The government said their selection represents a “token of appreciation for their role in providing care” during the pandemic.

Workers disinfect the ground around the Kaabah, over fears of the new coronavirus in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. PHOTO: AP