Hajj 2020 to be observed with ‘around 1,000 pilgrims’: minister

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will allow around 1,000 pilgrims residing within the kingdom to perform the Hajj this year, a minister said Tuesday, after it had been announced the ritual would be scaled back thanks to coronavirus.

“The number of pilgrims are going to be around 1,000, maybe less, maybe a touch more,” Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten told reporters.

“The number won’t be in tens or many thousands” this year, he added.

The pilgrimage, scheduled for the top of July, are going to be limited to those below 65 years aged and with no chronic illnesses, Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said.

The pilgrims are going to be tested for coronavirus before arriving within the Celestial City of Makkah and can be required to quarantine reception after the ritual, Rabiah added.

Saudi Arabia, whose virus cases have surpassed 161,000, announced on Monday it might hold a “very limited” Hajj this year, because it moves to curb the most important coronavirus outbreak within the Gulf.

The decision marks the primary time in Saudi Arabia’s modern history that Muslims outside the dominion are barred from performing the Hajj, which last year drew 2.5 million pilgrims.

Benten didn’t specify how the pilgrims are going to be selected.

But he said the govt will work with various diplomatic missions within the kingdom to pick foreign pilgrims residing in Saudi Arabia who fit the health criteria.

The Hajj — a requirement for able-bodied Muslims a minimum of once in their lifetime — typically packs many pilgrims into congested religious sites and will be a serious source of contagion.

The decision comes as Saudi Arabia grapples with a serious spike in infections, which have now risen to quite 161,000 cases — the very best within the Gulf — with quite 1,300 deaths.

But the move to reduce the five-day event is fraught with political and economic peril and comes after several Muslim countries pulled out.

Muslims disappointed, but accepting
Muslims expressed disappointment at Saudi Arabia’s decision to reduce this year’s Hajj pilgrimage, but many accepted it had been necessary because the kingdom battles the coronavirus outbreak.

The move had looked inevitable for a few time, but the announcement nevertheless added to disappointment for Muslims who invest huge sums and face long waits to travel on Hajj.

“My hopes of getting to [Makkah] were so high,” said Kamariah Yahya, 68, from Indonesia, which had already barred its citizens from the Hajj earlier this month.

“I’ve been preparing for years. But what am i able to do? this is often Allah’s will — it’s destiny.”

Shahid Rafique, chairman of a Pakistani Hajj tour operators’ group, said it had been “a moment of sorrow for all the Muslims, especially for those that were planning for years and years”.

“Professionally, it’s an enormous loss for us, for all the private Hajj organisers and that we might not be ready to get over this loss for several years,” he said.

In Bangladesh, head of a Hajj travel agencies’ group, Shahadat Hossain Taslim, said that “many people are going to be shattered” by the choice but accepted it had been for the simplest .

“Unlike other countries, the bulk of Bangladeshi pilgrims are elderly people, and that they are susceptible to COVID-19,” he said.

The minister for minority affairs in India said quite 200,000 people from the country had applied to travel on the five-day event, scheduled for the top of July, and that they would receive a full refund of any money deposited for the pilgrimage.

The decision has prompted renewed questions on Saudi Arabia’s custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites — the kingdom’s most powerful source of political legitimacy.

A series of deadly disasters over the years, including a 2015 stampede that killed up to 2,300 worshippers, has led to criticism of the kingdom’s management of the Hajj.

Mohamad Azmi Abdul Hamid, from charity the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisations, said Muslim nations should are allowed to require a “collective decision”, rather then it being left to Riyadh.

“It’s time (the holy cities of Makkah and Madina) are managed by a world board represented by Muslim countries,” he told AFP.

Despite the frustration , some Muslims were already looking ahead to 2021 and hoping they might be ready to perform the pilgrimage then.

“I’m still hoping to travel on Hajj next year, and pray that I’ll stay healthy until then,” said Yahya in Indonesia.

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