This year, the Hajj will take place in the most unusual circumstances. The pilgrims will wear masks and maintain social distance when standing at Arafat, stoning Satanic pillars and staying at Mina or circling the House of God. Non-Saudi Arabian residents will not participate in the annual pilgrimage that hosts millions from all 200 plus countries.

The pandemic does not discriminate and loves people’s assembly. The Hajj is one of the largest gatherings of Muslims and a fertile occasion for the Virus.

The decision by the Saudi authorities, to limit the pilgrimage to a few, painful as it is, offers a sensible and practical strategy to protect pilgrims from harm.

Epidemics and pandemics hit pilgrims at least nine times from 1814 until 1987. Up to 100,000 perished in those epidemics  in 1814, 1831, 1837, 1846, 1858, 1864, 1892, 1895 and 1987.

Hopefully, 2020 will not add significant numbers to those who died during the epidemics in the past.

Human life is sacred and a divine gift. Prophet Mohammad (s) respected human life and, on one occasion, looking  at the Kaaba, said: “You are dear to me, but the life of a human is more precious to me.”

The Quran says: “… It may well be that you hate a thing the while it is good for you, and it may well be that you love a thing the while it is bad for you: and God knows, whereas you do not know.” (2:216)

Muslims will feel the absence of millions from Makkah and Madinah, but most likely this year, the interest of people in the Hajj may multiply.

Muslims around the world may turn on their televisions and computers during the first 13 days of Zill Hijja to watch the Hajj proceedings with increased interest.

Even people of other faith and no faith may like to view the Hajj and rituals associated with it during the COVID-19 lockdown, a great opportunity indeed.

This year’s limited Hajj  will be an opportunity for Hajj administrators as well as the pilgrims to showcase to the world at large, the discipline and organisation in their observation of Hajj rituals.

It will offer an example to other religious communities to organise large gatherings of people in a safe environment  by following the regulations and restrictions in order to limit transmission of the coronavirus.

It will also allow others to learn about an Islam that respects human life, believing that God is in the hearts of the people, and the real purpose of rituals is to experience the closeness with Him.

It is this spirit indeed, that is dear to God.