During the final month of the Islamic lunar calendar, almost two million Muslims visit Saudi Arabia yearly to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all adult Muslims who are physically and financially able to do so must undertake this pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.
However, during last year’s Hajj season, Saudi Arabia was forced to downsize the number of pilgrims to a maximum of 1,000. Those allowed to perform the hajj were exclusively Saudi citizens and residents as for the first time in modern times, Muslims from around the world were barred to enter the kingdom in a bid to mitigate COVID-19 transmission.
As for this year’s Hajj season, there hasn’t been any definitive announcement issued by the government of Saudi Arabia regarding the implementation of the Hajj season 2021. The Saudi authorities have, however, hinted at the possibility of recommending Hajj this year through its health ministry, stating that only people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to attend the Hajj.
Here are some essential things pilgrims should prepare before they embark on this journey of a lifetime.
Prepare religious supplies
Besides Ihram clothes, essential religious supplies pilgrims should remember to bring along include a portable Koran, prayer mat and a seven-bead counter. General Muslim travel packs can be bought online and should contain all necessary supplies to help pilgrims along their spiritual journey.
Seek advice from a Hajji
Prepare a list of your questions and concerns and make an appointment to speak with a person who has already performed Hajj. Very often, he or she can provide you with practical tips that can’t be found in regular guidebooks. A Hajji might also have a specific Hajj travel package or travel agency to recommend. They will also be able to give you a first-person account of how to navigate and move along with the crowds and keep your cool among the vast masses.
Be mindful of weather conditions
Saudi Arabia is an arid desert country where fluctuations and extremities in weather are to be expected. The days between July and September can see temperatures reach as high as forty degrees Celsius in the day and dip to as low as the high twenties in the evenings.
During the day, adequate sun protection is necessary to prevent heat strokes, fainting spells and other ailments caused by the heat. Wide-brimmed sun hats and umbrellas can protect from the sun’s rays. Some also opt to bring a small handheld fan or a mini battery-powered fan to cool down and a towel to wipe off sweat. Sunglasses and sunscreen will also come in handy.
Likewise, be prepared for cooler weather at night and pack some thicker clothing for the later hours.
It is important to keep hydrated during this journey, and a refillable water bottle is a must. Pilgrims can drink the Zamzam water from the well of Zamzam in Mecca.
Prepare essential medication and required vaccinations
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging should the Hajj season recommence this year, all pilgrims will be required to have been inoculated for COVID-19 in order to attend the Hajj. Those who for whatever reason are unable to do so will not be granted entry into the kingdom.
Apart from COVID vaccinations, the Saudi Ministry of Health also encourages all international pilgrims to be “vaccinated against seasonal influenza before arrival into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, particularly those at increased risk of severe influenza diseases, including pregnant women, children under 5 years, the elderly, and individuals with underlying health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, and chronic heart or lung diseases.”
Check with your local Saudi embassy if you are from a country that requires vaccinations against Yellow Fever, Meningococcal Meningitis or Polio.
Finally, ensure that you have a necessary supply of prescription medication, as well as other essential medicines for common ailments such as coughs, stomach upsets, allergies and muscle aches.
Be physically prepared
Pilgrims will have to walk miles under the hot sun in the day, and battle with cold desert airs at night. Many find it useful to watch their diet, exercise and get in shape in preparation for the pilgrimage. Walking frequently in the weeks leading up to the journey can also help build endurance and stamina. Some prospective pilgrims choose to give up caffeine in preparation for the Hajj.
Pack energy bars, glucose packet drinks, and the like as these snacks will also come in handy during the strenuous journey when a boost in endurance is needed.
Proper sanitation and hygiene during the journey are essential. Bring along disinfectant, hand sanitiser and wash your hands as often as you can. Some choose to wear masks, especially in crowded areas. Disposable wipes and tissues should also be used instead of handkerchiefs. Bring along a few rolls of toilet paper and extra plastic bags and ziploc bags just in case.
Invest in a pair of practical and comfortable shoes. This is very important as you will be on your feet for the better part of this five-day pilgrimage.
Maintain social distancing
While the official health and safety protocols of the Hajj season 2021 have yet to be announced, it stands to reason that proper social distancing and mask-wearing would need to be observed at all times. We’ll be sure to update you on additional safety protocols as details become available.