Aitekaf resumption

Saudi authorities had reportedly been battling over removing restrictions since soon after they were imposed

March 25, 2022


Saudi Arabia looks set to allow Aitekaf to resume at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah after a two-year ban imposed as part of Covid-19 restrictions. The news came as Saudi leaders met to discuss plans for Ramazan, which will begin in about a week. People will still need permits to perform Aitekaf. The permits can be applied for online and will only be issued under “specific conditions and set criteria”. Reports in Saudi media estimated that around 100,000 people would perform Aitekaf at the two holiest mosques in Islam during the last 10 days of Ramazan. The ritual requires participants to spend all their time praying and meditating, with minimal contact allowed with other people outside of these activities.

The restoration of permission to perform Aitekaf ties in with Saudi efforts to return some normalcy to daily life in the kingdom. Most Covid-19 restrictions have already been lifted in recent weeks, including testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated tourists. Meanwhile, mask requirements have been relaxed to only cover closed spaces, which means that the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages will be largely maskless — barring reimposition of restrictions. However, the most significant restrictions, such as the stringent visa restrictions that barred anyone from overseas from performing Hajj in 2020, were removed several months earlier.

Saudi authorities had reportedly been battling over removing restrictions since soon after they were imposed, largely because Hajj, Umrah, and religious tourism in general are not just a matter of faith or altruism. The pilgrimages alone brought in an estimated $12 billion a year before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The pilgrimages are also a source of tremendous soft power and influence across the Muslim world for the Saudi government, while successes and failures at managing the Hajj have often been used by western analysts to reflect on the quality and effectiveness of the rulers of the day.

Now that restrictions are essentially a thing of the past, Ramazan — a peak pilgrimage month — will provide a preview of how Hajj will be managed in the post-Covid era, while also giving Riyadh enough time to address any hiccups well in advance of this year’s Hajj, which will also be compounded by the blistering heat of July in Saudi Arabia.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2022.

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