The Hajj – Adapting the Global Islamic Ritual to Pandemic Conditions
Keywords:Hajj, Covid-19, pandemic, ritual, pilgrimage
This paper looks at how the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj) adapted to the novel circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The pandemic has been an entirely novel and, probably, dominant liminal situation which has significantly affected the behavior of the faithful and the way in which their individual identity has been transformed, at least in the psychological sense. Following an introductory overview, which provides a brief description of the ritual process of the Hajj, the author briefly looks at the various ways of travel to Saudi Arabia from a historical perspective, as well as at new technical and health aspects which entailed the adaptation of this global ritual to pandemic conditions. Rituals are, undoubtedly, deeply connected to human psychological, but also social needs and inclinations, and help preserve functionality in dysfunctional situations such as natural disasters or the spread of new diseases. Similarly, they provide a safe zone in conditions of drastic and unwanted change. The paper therefore points out the very specific type of ambivalence which accompanies the fact that the natural human reaction at times of crisis is to "close ranks", which became extremely difficult or practically unfeasible in conditions of social distancing implemented as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in 2020-21. The conclusion highlights the fact that the latest experience with COVID-19 has had medical, economic, social, political, psychological and religious implications with long-term consequences for the organization of the Hajj.
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