When is Hajj 2021? Start date, meaning behind the Mecca pilgrimage and how Covid-19 is restricting numbers

Saudi security personnel watch smart screens, which identify passing pilgrims’ authorisation to participate in the Hajj, at ahe l-Zaidy pilgrims reception centre in Mecca, ahead of the upcoming annual pilgrimage (Photo: AP/Amr Nabil)

Millions of Muslims around the world make the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, only a “small and very limited” number of pilgrims were allowed to make the journey and not much has changed this year.

What is the Hajj pilgrimage?

The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the most important traditions in Islam, and involves carrying out a journey to the Kaaba, a sacred building in Mecca that all prayers are directed towards by Muslims around the world.

As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, all Muslims are expected to carry out the journey at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so.

It dates back to the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in the Jewish and Christian traditions), according to the Qu’ran, but is also linked to the Prophet Muhammad who is believed to have established the rites performed at the end the pilgrimage.

Hajj is seen as a time of self-renewal and symbolises equality, bringing people together of all races and social statuses for a series or rituals taking place over five or six days.

These include walking seven times anti-clockwise around the Kaaba, throwing pebbles at a pillar to symbolise stoning Satan and sacrificing an animal.

When does it take place this year?

This year, Hajj is predicted to start on Saturday 17 July and conclude on Thursday 22 July.

Its timing is based on the Islamic calendar which works according to lunar cycles, meaning that not only does it not fall on the same date each year, but it’s also not possible to predict its date with complete accuracy.

Hajj takes place between the eighth and the twelfth or thirteenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.

Eid al-Adha always falls just as the pilgrimage comes to an end, on the 10th day of the Islamic month.

On 12 June 2021, the Saudi authorities announced that, like last year, due to the pandemic, pilgrims from outside the Kingdom would not be permitted to enter.

Hajj rites will be limited to 60,000 pilgrims who already reside in the kingdom but no one over the age of 65 will be allowed to take part.

Between two and three million Muslims gather in Mecca in normal years.


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