Six Sierra Leoneans residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia participated in the 1442/2021- downsized Hajj. They were the Head of Mission of the Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leone in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Ibrahim Jalloh, Minister Plenipotentiary/Head of Chancery, Ibrahim V. Kondoh, Information Attaché, Abubakarr S. Bah, Sheku Golfa, an employee of UNICEF, Alhaji Bailah Bah and Mariama Dalan Bah.
It was the first Hajj for Ibrahim V. Kondoh, Abubakarr S. Bah, Sheku Golfa and Madam Mariama Dalan Bah, the only female of the Sierra Leone delegation in this year’s Hajj.
“My spiritual closeness to Allah is very touching. It gives the clear interpretation that we are all equal in the sight of Allah,” the Head of Chancery, Mr. Kondoh noted.
Mr. Golfa of UNICEF said, “Participating in the 2021 Hajj is a reminder that our life on earth is short and should therefore be spent on doing good work, striving to fulfil the needs of others, purely out of love and gratitude to Allah.”
The Hajj process started with the movement of pilgrims from Mina to Arafat also known as “Jabal Al-Rahmah” (the Mountain of Mercy), where they spent the rest of the day till sunset. After the Arafat rituals, the pilgrims proceeded to Muzdalifah for Maghrib and Isha prayers and a brief rest.
Before the closing circumambulation of Al-Kaaba (pilgrims walking around the Al-kaaba in one direction in a circular fashion to symbolize their belief in and worship of the one true God), the pilgrims threw pebbles at “Jamarat” in Mina on three consecutive days: 7 pebbles for the first, 21 for the second and 21 for the third day respectively. Agents representing all the government’s Hajj-related authorities monitored the stoning process. Throughout the ritual, the pilgrims followed COVID 19 precautionary measures. To ensure their safety, the pilgrims performed their second-day ritual in organized groups.
Saudi Minister of Health Dr Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said that the health plan for this year’s Hajj was a success with no COVID-19 infection cases identified.
A total of 60,000 citizens/residents of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were selected for this year’s Hajj after applying through an online portal and paid a fee ranging from $4000 to $8000 respectively per pilgrim. The shortlisted pilgrims were between the ages of 18 and 65 with no terminal illnesses and symptoms of the coronavirus. All pilgrims were also required to take a full dose of the requisite COVID-19 Vaccine and preference was given to those who had not performed Hajj before and those who performed five years ago.
Before the outbreak of COVID -19, Makkah used to host about 2.5 million pilgrims around the world annually but in 2020, the number was downsized to 1,000, and 60,000 pilgrims in 2021. The downscaling was due to the continuing incidence of the COVID -19 pandemic globally and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular.
As it happened in 2020, pilgrims observed strict social distancing guidelines during prayers and throughout the Hajj. They moved in small groups of 20 from one holy site to another. It is the second time in nearly a century of Saudi rule.
The hospitality sector in Makkah looks forward to a strong recovery from the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and experts predict that hotels will begin to see results within two years.
Makkah, the third-most densely populated in the Kingdom is particularly well-served in terms of hotels — almost two-thirds of all those in Saudi Arabia can be found there. Before the pandemic, it was a thriving sector; its growth fuelled by the ever-increasing numbers of visitors from around the world who flock to Makkah for the annual Hajj pilgrimage or to perform their Umrah rituals.
COVID-19 changed everything. However, it is further hoped that after the dramatic decline in business caused by the pandemic, “hotel recuperation” plans could begin to yield results by 2023, as the world slowly starts to emerge from lockdown.