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Saudi Officials Announce This Year's Hajj Will Be 'Very Limited'

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The global pandemic has taken its toll on one of the biggest religious rituals in the world. Saudi Arabia has barred pilgrims from outside the country from attending the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca next month. NPR's Jane Arraf has more from Amman, Jordan.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: The hajj is one of the pillars of Islam. Any Muslim who is physically capable and can afford it is religiously required to conduct the pilgrimage at least once in their lives. The Saudi government said this year it just wasn't safe. More than 2 million pilgrims gather in Mecca for the ceremonies, all packed into a small space, and there was the risk that pilgrims would contract the virus there and take it back to their own countries. Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, had already said it would not allow pilgrims to go.

It's a huge blow for many pilgrims, particularly elderly ones who have been dreaming their entire lives of being able to go. We spoke to a widow in Baghdad - Farha Khalaf (ph). She's 72.

FARHA KHALAF: (Non-English language spoken).

ARRAF: She tells us she finally saved and borrowed enough money for this year and paid $2,000 in advance. Now, she fears, she will never be able to do it. For the Saudis, the hajj brings in billions of dollars a year. Authorities say they will allow very limited numbers of Saudi and foreign residents already in the country to attend.

Jane Arraf, NPR News, Amman, Jordan.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN SONG, "DON'T GO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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