Members of the family of Faridah Bakti Yahra get in contact with her through a tablet from their home in Khobar city as she performs the Hajj. AFP
Thanks to her smartphone, and the 5G towers that loom over the Holy City, the Indonesian housewife is sharing every step of the pilgrimage with her husband and three daughters back home in the Saudi coastal city of Khobar.
Hendra Samosir and his children get in contact with Faridah Bakti Yahra through a tablet from their home. AFP
"I am so happy he joined me virtually, spiritually, with my daughters also. May my dear husband come here together with me again for Hajj — In Sha Allah (God willing)," the 39-year-old told AFP.
In the first days of the pilgrimage, many of the faithful were seen holding their phones aloft to snap selfies and livestream their progress to friends and family back home.
Super high-speed 5G technology was rolled out in Makkah last year, allowing pilgrims to transfer data at breakneck speeds, and the network is now prevalent across much of Saudi Arabia.
But this year the shared religious experience has even greater resonance, with the gathering scaled down from more than two million people to just a few thousand, and at a time when many prayers are being offered for a world gripped by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Tears of joy
Yahra opened a video call on the first day of the Hajj at Grand Mosque when she approached the Holy Kaaba, a large cubic structure draped in gold-embroidered black cloth, towards which Muslims around the world pray.
"When my wife entered the Kaaba area and she showed me the Kaaba, I felt very, very cheerful, joyful, with tears," her husband Hendra Samosir said.
Members of the family of Faridah Bakti Yahra get in contact with her through a tablet. AFP
"It was very truly a holy journey I would say, even though I wasn't there, but looking at my wife attending this Hajj, it feels like I was there."
Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians usually take part in the Hajj, many waiting and saving for years before their turn comes up.
This year, there are believed to be hardly more than a dozen in Makkah. Yahra was selected in a process that for the first time excluded pilgrims from outside the kingdom.
In recent years, the Hajj has been at the centre of an acceleration in the growth of digital worship, with a slew of religious apps and tablet Qurans.
Some pilgrims now prefer reading Quranic verses from their smartphones — rapidly replacing traditional printed Holy Books.
But the tech is not limited to reading on screens and sharing stories. It has rapidly evolved to offer pilgrims the possibility of performing religious duties from their homes.
Online platforms have emerged allowing worshippers to virtually perform the year-round Umrah, or minor pilgrimage, which usually takes only a few hours.
Some Islamic clerics support the idea, while others say only the sick are entitled to such an option.
And the situation is different with the Hajj, a journey made over several days that requires walking for kilometres, praying for hours, and sleeping outdoors.
Some of this year's pilgrims have reported that performing the pilgrimage on such a small scale has been an intensely spiritual experience.
"I am praying for my husband to get back to work again," Yahra said.
"And I pray for the situation to get back to normal again, for the pandemic to stop, and for coronavirus to be gone."
The announcement comes amid uncertainty over the Hajj which is due to take place at the end of July, after authorities this week urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.
The decision also affected travel to Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) mosque in Medina. Authorities also suspended entry to the kingdom to those with tourist visas from nations affected by the new virus.
In the Saudi Holy City of Makkah, dotted with fast food eateries and stalls selling Chinese-made trinkets, vendors are ready to cash in on the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency cited Saleh Bin Taher Banten's remarks in stories early on Wednesday, saying that Muslims should "be patient” in making their plans for the Hajj. The pilgrimage was expected to begin in late July this year.
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