Visiting the Holy city of Makkah to perform Hajj is obligatory for every Muslim once-in-a-lifetime when he/she can afford it. During the week-long trip, pilgrims pray in the Grand Mosque, perform Tawaf of the Ka’bah and visit Mount Arafat. The rituals conclude on Eid al-Adha, a celebration that marks the end of Hajj when pilgrims replace their white Ihram robes with regular clothes and sacrifice sheep, goats and camels.
While Saudi Arabia has managed to organize Hajj during previous viral outbreaks such as Ebola and MERS but the global scale of the coronavirus pandemic presents a far more difficult challenge. Because it spreads with the touch of hand so mass gatherings aren’t safe for the health of people.
Hajj a Source of Foreign Revenue
In addition to its importance in Islam, the pilgrimage is also a major source of foreign revenue for KSA. According to the reports.
Official data shows Hajj and the lesser, year-round Umrah pilgrimages earn the Kingdom about $12 billion a year.
However, In March, as cases of COVID-19 started to increase, Saudi Arabia imposed ban on countries to allow Umrah or Hajj packages.
What Restrictions were Supposed to be Implemented?
According to reports Saudi officials are pushing to cancel this year’s Hajj. Officials of Saudi Arabia were planning on grant permission for only “Symbolic Numbers” of pilgrims this year for Hajj, with restrictions such as a ban on the elderly pilgrims and imposed additional health checks. According to reports,
With strict procedures, authorities think it may be possible to allow in up to 20 per cent of each country’s regular quota of pilgrims.
The Reaction of Indian Hajj Committee
Being the second most populated country India also has a large number of Muslims living there and due to which yearly many pilgrims reach Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. The Hajj Committee of India has announced,
There is little chance of Hajj 2020 taking place. Even those who do not apply for cancellation will get full refund.
On average, around 200,000 people from India travel on Hajj to Saudi Arabia every year.
Indonesian Governments take on the Situation
Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, has cancelled participation of its citizens in the Hajj. Approximately 220,000 people from Indonesia used to participate in the Hajj yearly. But as per orders of the Saudi Government the Indonesian public won’t be taking part in this year’s Hajj until direct orders from the Saudi Hajj Authorities.
How will this Decision Affect the Economy of Saudi Arabia?
A decision to cancel or even scale down the Hajj would be a huge blow to Saudi Arabia, given its plans to boost its capacity for religious tourism. According to reports,
An economic reform plan of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to increase Umrah and Hajj capacity to 30 million pilgrims annually and generate $13.32 billion of revenues by 2030.
The Decision of Hajj Cancellation
Saudi Arabia is still considering cancelling the Hajj pilgrimage season for the first time since the kingdom was founded in 1932, as the cases of Coronavirus in the country topped 100,000. A senior official from Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah ministry told the Financial Times.
The issue has been carefully studied and different scenarios are being considered. An official decision will be made within one week.
Pressure toward the Saudi officials to take a Decision
The annual ritual held in late July is one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, attracting about 2M people to the kingdom every year. But after the organizers of global events including the Olympic Games in Tokyo were forced to delay or cancel due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Saudi officials have faced growing pressure to take action. As the health of every single person coming for Hajj would be their responsibility.
What Proposals were Given by the Officials?
One proposal is to allow a small number of local pilgrims to perform Hajj in the pilgrimage season altogether. Another possibility is to cancel the Hajj while observing strict health precautions. According to the officials,
All options are on the table but the priority is for the health and safety of pilgrims.
When will this ritual take place?
The fact that Hajj rituals will take place in the second week of the Muslim month of Dhu al-Hajj — which falls this year from July 29 to August 4 — means the pilgrimage cannot be postponed and that there are tight schedules to finalize travel and accommodation plans.
What was the plan of increasing the national quota?
The Saudi government, which takes great pride in organizing Hajj and hosting religious visitors, imposes national quotas on the number of pilgrims from each country each year. Leaders of Muslim nations often petition the Saudi king, whose official title is the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”, to increase their national quota as demand outstrips supply and the waiting list can be as long as 30 years.
Why won’t Indonesia send any citizen for Hajj this year?
The biggest allocation goes to Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, which usually sends around 200,000 pilgrims. But this year, Indonesian officials have said their citizens will not travel. “In May, we prepared two options: a 50 per cent quota reduction or cancellation. [But] Saudi Arabia has not opened access to Hajj pilgrims from any country to date,”
Fachrul Razi, Indonesia’s religious affairs minister told local media earlier this month.
“As a result, the government doesn’t have enough time to make primary preparations for services and protection of pilgrims.”
Same in the case of Malaysia
Malaysia said on Thursday it would also not send pilgrims this year as well.
Suspension of Umrah and Hajj pilgrimage
Saudi Arabia suspended Umrah in late February, which is known as the lesser pilgrimage and can be performed year-round, due to the virus. Then a month later, the government advised Muslims seeking to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year to delay making travel arrangements until there was more clarity on the extent of the outbreak.
What were the plans of expanding the tourism by the crown prince?
The government had ambitious targets for the expansion of the religious tourism sector before the pandemic hit. Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic reform program, the kingdom aimed to double the number of foreign Umrah pilgrims to 15m by the end of 2020.
Umrah and Hajj pilgrims combined were expected to spend more than $12B this year. The probable loss of most of that revenue will put more pressure on an economy that has already been hit by the twin shocks of the oil price collapse and the pandemic. Hotels and religious tourism operators in the holy cities of Makkah and Medina will be particularly affected. For more information, visit our website. Stay safe. Stay tuned.
Source: Gulf News