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Faisal Britit is one of around 10,000 chosen to perform the 'hajj' , the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that every acolyte of Muhammad must perform at least once in his life and which begins this Wednesday. An event that each year brings together more than 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world and that Covid-19 has turned into an almost intimate act, limited to less than 10,000 Saudi pilgrims and residents of the kingdom of 160 nationalities. A historical edition, marked by the ravages of the pandemic, in which this young Spaniard of Moroccan origin is one of the few protagonists .

"I am one of the very few in the world. When I found out that it was finally going to be celebrated, I signed up on the website and thank God I was chosen," Faisal, confined to a hotel in the holy city of Mecca, told EL MUNDO. waiting for the start of "hajj". At the end of June, after months of speculation, Riyadh announced the organization of a miniature 'hajj', away from past crowds in which stampedes were recorded.

"In light of the continuation of the pandemic and the risks of the spread of the coronavirus in crowded spaces and large gatherings, its transmission between countries and the increase in cases globally, it has been decided that this year's 'hajj' (the 1441 A.H. or 2020) will be celebrated with a very limited number of pilgrims of various nationalities already residing in Saudi Arabia, "then outlined the ministry of 'hajj' and 'umrah', the 'small' pilgrimage to places saints of islam that can be celebrated during the rest of the year.

At 28, Faisal, a student of Shariah (Islamic law) at Medina University, meets the strict requirements imposed by local authorities . It is in the country - international air connections, suspended in March, have not yet been re-established in Saudi Arabia; their age ranges from 20 to 50 years; it has no chronic diseases and has provided a negative PCR test confirming that it is free of Covid-19; and had not yet performed 'hajj'.

"Before traveling to Mecca, I completed fourteen days of confinement at home. Once here, I must spend another four days in the hotel room. It is one of the requirements that you commit to when you register," says Faisal, from Almería. of adoption and an athlete who for years garnered victories in athletics races in southern Spain.

"We are meeting brothers from many countries. Although everything is very limited because everyone is in their room and social distance and prevention measures must be kept. Often we cannot even show our faces," admits the young man. With nearly 270,000 infections and more than 2,700 deaths , Saudi Arabia is the country on the Arabian Peninsula most affected by the coronavirus. In addition, in recent months, the kingdom has had to deal with several outbreaks in Riyadh and Jeddah, the country's two main cities, and Mecca has been the local epicenter of the epidemic.

A rigorous deployment - with crowd control measures and the assistance of "leading medical services" between hospitals and mobile clinics - protects the most atypical celebration of 'hajj', which since the beginning of Islam in 629 AD, It has been interrupted some 40 times due to wars, famines, plagues and floods. "The health and safety of pilgrims is our top priority. Reducing the number was a necessary precaution to ensure that the virus does not spread as long as there is no vaccine," says 'hajj' minister Mohamed Saleh bin Taher Benten. "This time around, foreign residents in Saudi Arabia represent 70 percent of pilgrims while the rest are Saudi citizens , " he adds.

"When we started our house confinement, we were told to install one of the three mobile apps that the kingdom has for the control of the Covid-19. We also wear a bracelet and the control is continuous. Sometimes the bracelet, even without leaving home, he tells you: "Come home. It is for your good." They are very concerned and very attentive. I am very grateful, "says Faisal, who will have to complete a new period of isolation when the 'hajj' ends .

"I have a family between Almería and Morocco. They are very happy about this opportunity. They congratulate me and ask me to ask for them . Hopefully, God will make us be able to teach him the best of ourselves," replies the young man, about to start the a journey that reconstructs the route that Muhammad traveled fourteen centuries ago. Starting this Wednesday, Faisal will join the select group that, dressed in 'ihram' - a habit for the occasion made up of two open pieces of clean white cloth - will head towards Mina , about eight kilometers east of Mecca and then to Mount Arafat , a mound about 15 kilometers east of the city, where he will dedicate himself to singing prayers.

Back in Mina, the crowd will then prepare to celebrate 'Eid al Adha' (The Feast of Sacrifice), the most important event on the Muslim calendar that begins this Friday. The pilgrimage will conclude with the ritual of 'ramyi' , the throwing of stones against three pillars that symbolize Satan.

Faisal will parade through a geography that has been intensively modified in recent decades to accommodate hundreds of thousands of souls , with immense roads and an imposing network of multi-level platforms. An engineering work that, this time, a pandemic will leave empty. "It will be perhaps easier because when there were so many people it was difficult to do the route. You have to try to do the job well and remember all those people who are not with you and ask for them too," concludes Faisal.

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