Only a handful of South African hujjaj have been invited to perform this year’s historic hajj, set against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. VOC News has learnt that five South African ex-pats who are working in the Saudi Kingdom, have been accredited for the pilgrimage. Amongst them are eachers from Cape Town, Kimberly and Pietermaritzburg, out of an estimated 1000 pilgrims chosen to gather in the holy cities this year.
Saudi Arabia announced last month that the hajj would take place with limited pilgrims amid the continued threat of coronavirus to global public health. The hajj and umrah ministry announced that 70 percent of ex-pats and 30 percent of Saudi citizens could apply for hajj this year, however with conditions. Only persons under 65 years old could join the pilgrimage and must take mandatory coronavirus testing and undergo quarantine.
After taking a leap of faith to apply for the hajj, Nazeema Williams from Grassy Park and Yusuf Kleinsmith from Kimberley are on the cusp of this once-in-a-lifetime journey. The two expats have been working as teachers in Riyadh for the past two years at the same school.
On Saturday, they arrived in Makkah for their four-day quarantine, ahead of the start of hajj on Wednesday 8 Dhul Hjjja. Speaking to VOC from the Saudi Kingdom, Williams said she was humbled by the invitation to perform her fardh hajj.
“I cannot wait for the first day of hajj to arrive. It’s such a great feeling…I cannot describe it,” she said from her hotel room.
“When I received my acceptance from the Ministry of Hajj, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I didn’t expect to be accepted. Shukr to Allah that I am amongst the chosen ones.”
Kleinsmith was equally astonished that his time for hajj had come so soon.
“The odds are one in a million that I would be selected, as only 1000 people can go for hajj. It’s truly an overwhelming and humbling experience,” he said.
Because he has never performed hajj before, Kleinsmith said he “didn’t know what to expect.”
“I comfort myself with listening to people who have been on hajj, such as my mother. The common thing that has stood out is that the journey begins way before you leave or have made your booking. It starts with a prayer to Allah to take you to the holiest place and the desire to fulfil the final pillar of Islam.”
The road to hajj
When Saudi Arabia announced it would host the hajj with limited numbers, a group of South African teachers immediately applied once the hajj application portal opened.
“The anticipation of waiting was tremendous. I couldn’t wait and after a week, I got my message to say its been accepted. I was so happy and ran to Yusuf’s mom to find out if they had been accepted. Alhamdullilah, it was only Yusuf and myself that were approved,” said Williams, who had never applied for hajj accreditation back home.
Williams, a divorcee, had been concerned that she would not be accepted on the grounds that she did not have a mahram for travelling, but due to her age, she was given the green light.
Following the approval for hajj, the two educators were informed of mandatory COVID-19 testing needed for their travel. All hajj applicants were issued with an e-tracking bracelet to monitor their 10-day isolation period in Riyadh. Once they arrived in Makkah over the weekend, they commenced an additional four-day isolation, before undergoing more tests on Tuesday, at the end of the isolation period.
Saudi Arabia’s E-tracking bracelet is linked to an app and uses state of the art technology to locate all pilgrims and tracks the movements of hujjaj while in isolation. A second app alerts pilgrims of people in their immediate range who have COVID-19.
Saudi Arabia detected 1,897 new infections during the past 24 hours, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the Kingdom to 270,831 since the start of the pandemic.
“We were warned that if we leave our hotel (during isolation), our hajj would be terminated. What I noticed is that they use these stickers on the ground, where you have to stay a few metres away from the next person. Everyone is wearing their masks. The protection of all hujjaj is the priority of the kingdom,” said Kleinsmith.
“Yesterday we had an online session with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah on health and safety during our journey. Everything has been well organised since our arrival,” added Williams.
While she had initial worries over possible exposure to the virus, Williams now feels completely at ease after their first test results were negative in Riyadh. At present, her focus is not on the coronavirus, but rather the spiritual magnitude of hajj.
“My focus is on fulfilling my obligations. I am at ease with all the measures put in place and believe that if I follow the rules, I will be okay,” stated Williams.
The Day of Wuqoof
With just a few hours to go before hujjaj gather on the plains of Arafat, emotions are at an all-time high for the pilgrims. Both Williams and Kleinsmith admit that the fact that they were the “chosen ones” out of thousands of other people who made niyyah to perform hajj, is a monumental feeling.
“When I think of the hajj, I cry…tears just roll on my face. I am emotional thinking that I will stand on Arafat. I think of my dad and sister who was accredited and could not go this year due to COVID-19. I think of all my loved ones and friends, who have sent me well wishes. I will keep them in my duas and I also ask them to make dua for me, Insha Allah.”
For Kleinsmith, the greatness of this opportunity is palpable.
“To think I will be standing on the Mount of Mercy, where the Prophet SAW gave his final sermon is unbelievable. I will be taking all the peoples duas with me. I am so blessed and fortunate to be in this position. May Allah SWT make it easy for us all so this pandemic can end and that we can come out of this spiritually stronger, Ameen.”