A few days separate us from the beginning of the month of Ramadan, which falls this year in exceptional circumstances, with the outbreak of the new Corona virus (Covid-19), and the imposition of home isolation in many Islamic countries.

After Corona declared a global pandemic, it became clear that religious rituals are among the areas of life most affected by the spread of infection, including the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage, on which changing restrictions are imposed day by day.

Umrah has a special place for every Muslim, as it is a spiritual journey, and a great opportunity to get away from the pressures of daily life, to return and draw closer to God, to follow His commands and avoid His prohibitions.

However, the current conditions and challenges associated with the epidemic have prevented many from performing this great obligation, and made us see the courtyard of the Grand Mosque in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia free of worshipers for the first time in the modern era, as well as the decisions to suspend Umrah for periods, and to postpone the reservations of those wishing to Hajj.

Because of Corona, the Grand Mosque in Mecca is empty of worshipers for the first time in the modern era (Al-Jazeera)

Vaccination is a prerequisite

But with the start of the distribution of vaccines and the precautionary measures taken by the competent Saudi authorities internally and externally at their land, sea and air borders, the Umrah rituals have been resumed under certain conditions.

At the beginning of last November, Saudi Arabia began receiving pilgrims from outside the Kingdom after a hiatus of nearly 7 months due to the spread of the Corona virus.

A few days ago, the Saudi authorities tightened restrictions on performing Umrah, as they would only allow people who received the Coronavirus vaccine to perform Umrah and pray at the Grand Mosque in Makkah during the holy month of Ramadan.

In the "Tawakalna" and "Umrah" application

In order to perform the Umrah rituals, the one who wishes must submit a request through two applications on smartphones, the first of which is the “Tawakalna” application, to ensure that the applicant is free from the Corona virus, and another application is “Umrah”, to record data and choose a date to perform Umrah or perform prayer, then obtain a permit that allows To perform Umrah, and the current regulation for booking Umrah allows for a permit to be issued every 15 days.

Authorized ages for overhaul

The age of those authorized for Umrah ranges between 18 and 70 years, and an Umrah permit cannot be issued for those under 18 and for those over 70 years old, even if they have received vaccination.

Also, children cannot be added as companions, while the mother is allowed to be added as a companion to the beneficiary.

Vaccination against Corona is a prerequisite for performing Umrah and for prayer at the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Getty Images)

The most prominent conditions for performing Umrah

These are the most prominent conditions set for performing Umrah:

  • The pilgrim must be a healthy immunized person who received two doses of the Coronavirus vaccine, or one who spent 14 days after receiving the first dose of the vaccine, or immunized recovering from infection.

  • The age group for pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia should be from 18-50 years, and within it from 18-70 years.

  • Presenting a PCR certificate with a negative result proving that the pilgrim has not been infected with the new Corona virus.

  • A BCR examination certificate must be issued by a reliable laboratory from the country of Al-Mu`tamr, provided that it does not exceed 72 hours from the time the sample is taken until the time of arrival in Saudi Arabia.

  • Prior reservation for performing Umrah and prayer in the Grand Mosque, visiting the Prophet's Mosque and praying in the honorable Rawda, according to the controls and capacity approved through one of the applications for mobile phones.

  • Flight reservations must be confirmed for going and returning according to the approved program for each pilgrim.

  • Undergo health isolation upon arrival in Saudi Arabia for a period of 3 days.

The start of the Umrah according to precautionary measures

After all these conditions are met, the pilgrim will be ready to start the Umrah rituals, which he will perform according to precautionary and health measures and in a completely different way from the previous one.

When the pilgrim enters the Grand Mosque in Mecca to perform the obligation of life, the circumambulation will start from outside to inside in parallel lines, and move from each path to a path in a spiral fashion, and the first circuits of circumambulation start from the tenth path and end in the third path through a transition point specified between the paths.

The pilgrims are then wafted from the end to the endeavor through a path equipped at an angle of 45 degrees, to avoid collision or disruption of other paths.

The elderly and people with disabilities will have special lanes near the Holy Kaaba, the first track for vehicles is 155 meters long and accommodates 45 vehicles, and the circumambulation process takes 10-15 minutes, and the second is 145 meters long, which is the closest to the Kaaba, and accommodates 50 people. For the elderly who do not need vehicles, to make it easier for them because of the difficulty of their movement.

At the present time, the possibility of issuing new permits to perform Umrah during the blessed month of Ramadan for those who did not register before Shaaban 18, corresponding to the end of last March, has now closed, as this was the last date for registration through the “Aumrah” application.

Promote pilgrims from end-to-end endeavor through a 45-degree pathway to avoid collision (Getty Images)

New terms for the remainder of 2021

But Saudi Arabia has set new conditions for Hajj and Umrah during the remainder of 2021, the most important of which are:

  • The need for domestic and foreign pilgrims to receive doses of the Coronavirus vaccine before the beginning of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah.

  • The vaccine for pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must be approved by the World Health Organization.

  • That the second dose of the Corona vaccine be about a week before entering the Kingdom.

  • All taxpayers and Hajj workers receive the two doses of the vaccine approved in the Kingdom against Corona, no less than a week before the start of the mandate.

  • The wearing of the muzzle by all pilgrims and workers at all times.

  • Show a "negative" laboratory test result for the virus 72 hours before arriving in the Kingdom.

  • Stone for 72 hours after reaching the kingdom.

  • The quarantine period includes the re-examination of the laboratory approved after 48 hours by a contracting party with the field service provider for pilgrims.

The wearing of the muzzle by all pilgrims and workers at all times (Getty Images)

Great burdens in the face of pilgrims

In the year 2020, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was forced to suspend Umrah rituals during the Corona pandemic in order to preserve the safety of citizens and residents on its lands and pilgrims.

However, after the resumption of the Umrah process, many people in various Islamic countries - including Qatar - were unable to perform this obligation, whether due to the many obstacles related to health restrictions or increased financial burdens.

Ibrahim Al-Ibrahimi - who is the owner of one of the Umrah campaigns in Qatar - explains that everyone was happy after the reconciliation and the opening of the borders, but the Corona epidemic created great burdens on the face of pilgrims, whether material or psychological.

Brahimi says to Al-Jazeera Net that the pilgrim is required to pay double sums of money in order to perform the obligatory Umrah in light of the precautionary measures, as well as the psychological pressures associated with the fear of contracting the epidemic.

He adds that the private bus has reduced its capacity to 20 instead of 50, and the room is from 4 to two people, and the tent ranges from 12 to 4 people, in addition to increasing the price of airline tickets, which is what made Umrah trips between Qataris limited to individual trips only.

Catch up with the Hajj season

In turn, the executive director of one of the Umrah campaigns, Magdy Abdel Hamid, expresses to Al-Jazeera Net his hope to catch up with the Hajj season and to conduct many trips, after the completion of the vaccination of the largest possible percentage of the population with the Corona virus vaccine.

He confirms that most of the Hajj and Umrah offices have begun the procedures for returning to their activities again by communicating with hotels and housing places in Makkah and Madinah to take the prices and start the necessary arrangements to run campaigns from Doha again, but they are awaiting approvals and the completion of all equipment from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Health, and Endowments And Islamic Affairs, as well as the Saudi authorities.