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UAE Press: Resumption of Umrah is a sign of renewed hope

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ABU DHABI, 4th October, 2020 (WAM) — Today marks the resumption of the Umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the Islamic rite was suspended in March this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, a UAE newspaper noted.
The National added, "In 2019, more than 19 million people performed the Umrah, an Islamic pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time of the year. But starting today, the number will be capped at 6,000 each day.
"The annual Hajj pilgrimage, which took place in July, was also scaled back, with fewer than 10,000 pilgrims performing Islam’s holiest rite, instead of the usual 2 million people.
"This difficult decision was necessary in order to protect worshippers from COVID-19. Increasing the number of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims was central to Saudi Vision 2030, a long-term plan to diversify the Saudi economy and enact social reforms. The Kingdom had hoped to attract over 30 million Umrah pilgrims by 2030, but the pandemic has forced the government to cut back on these goals."
The fact that the Hajj could take place at all, the paper said, and without any health problems, is a victory for health authorities. "In addition, the low number of pilgrims has made Hajj an even more intimate and memorable experience for pilgrims this year."
It continued, "Organising pilgrimages in the age of COVID-19 poses immense logistical challenges. To perform the Umrah, worshippers are required to download an application – named I’tamarna – giving them access to the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah, and allowing them to select modes of transport and meeting points. High-resolution thermal cameras have been installed at the entrances of the Grand Mosque, which will be washed 10 times a day.
"Umrah will resume in three phases to ensure the safety of pilgrims. In the first two weeks, 6,000 Saudis will be allowed to perform the pilgrimage each day. From October 18, up to 15,000 residents and citizens of the Kingdom will be allowed to undertake Umrah daily. And in November, that number is expected to rise to 20,000, reaching 100 per cent capacity.
"Suspending Umrah for seven months was a necessary precaution, but the fact that it has now resumed, even with limited capacity, brings solace to worshippers during challenging times."
Irfan Iqbal Khan, an Indian resident of Saudi Arabia for 23 years, told The National that the resumption of Umrah "came like a silver lining" during a particularly difficult period. "This year has been marked by the pandemic, restrictions designed to contain its spread, and the consequent global economic downturn," the paper said.
"Religion can bring people together, and give succour to believers in a time of crisis. Yet the pandemic has made it challenging to hold religious events that bring communities together, often forcing them to commune from a safe distance. As our understanding of COVID-19, and the means to curb its spread, grow over time, some activities have resumed, albeit with many precautions."
"The resumption of Umrah is a sign of resilience, and it brings much-needed hope in these difficult times," the Abu Dhabi-based daily concluded.