RIYADH: Pilgrims in Saudi Arabia took part in a symbolic stoning of the devil yesterday, but maintained social distancing in a ritual that usually brings millions of worshippers from all over the world shoulder to shoulder.
Clad in white robes denoting a state of purity and face masks, men and women cast stones, closely monitored by health professionals. The pilgrims stood apart on yellow markers marking a safe social distance.
They will return over the next two days for more stoning before going back to Mecca to pray at the Grand Mosque at the end of Haj.
In previous years, some three million pilgrims from across the world flocked to Islam’s holiest sites to attend Haj.
But with large gatherings impossible given the pandemic, only a few thousand pilgrims – Saudis and foreign residents living in the country – are gathering this year.
Although no official figure has been given, local media report there are around 10,000 pilgrims. The Haj minister in June said pilgrims would number 1,000.
This year it faces the challenge of keeping the Haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it and a major source of income for the government, safe from Covid-19.
A health ministry spokesman said that there were no Covid-19 infections, nor any other major diseases among pilgrims so far.