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Thursday, February 15, 2024

COVID-19: Is Saudi Arabia considering to suspend Hajj for the public?

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to haunt several countries, there are changes that Saudi Arabia may not go for a full-fledged Hajj in 2021. What does Islam say in this regard? Read this informative piece.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noor-ul-Haq Qadri on Wednesday said that Saudi authorities have so far refused to accept applications from pilgrims, therefore, Hajj will likely be affected in 2021 as well.

According to local media reports, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri told journalists that he is aware of people’s concerns regarding Hajj, adding that he is “constantly in touch with the Saudi Arabian authorities in this regard.”

Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said that unlike each year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Pakistan regarding Hajj yet.

Read more: Smallest Hajj in recent history concludes amidst pandemic

It should be noted that Saudi Arabia allowed a limited number of pilgrims (10,000 people) to perform Hajj last year in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Among the pilgrims who were allowed to perform Hajj, 70 per cent were foreign immigrants living in Saudi Arabia and 30 per cent were Saudi citizens.

Importance of Hajj in Islam

In Islamic terminology, Hajj is a pilgrimage made to the Kaaba, the “House of Allah”, in the sacred city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Muslims from all over the world go to Saudi Arabia to perform this religious obligation. The rites of Hajj are performed over five or six days, beginning on the eighth and ending on the thirteenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the confession of monotheism, prayers five times a day, annual charity and fasting in the month of Ramadan, which commenced on Friday. Every conscientious Muslim who can afford to perform the pilgrimage safely and endure it physically is required to undertake it at least once in a lifetime. Pilgrims often save and prepare for years before traveling to Mecca.

Read more: Hajj 2020: Saudi Arabia may delay hajj plans over coronavirus epidemic

Every year, more than two million perform the pilgrimage, gathering for a set of rituals in Mecca, traveling together to several sites in the outskirts of the city and then visiting the holy city of Medina, 300 miles away, where the Prophet Muhammad (P.H.B) is buried.

Can Hajj be suspended for the public?

As the deadly pandemic was spreading across the world in 2020, prominent religious scholars and commentators proposed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to suspend Hajj for the public.

Dr. Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of Islamic thought and Muslim societies in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame, recently wrote an interesting and insightful piece to urge the Saudi administration to realize its leadership role and guide the Muslim world. “Saudi Arabia needs to immediately announce the suspension of the pilgrimage because of the coronavirus pandemic. Such a declaration will emphasize the priority of safety in Islamic ethics to believers everywhere and will help in curbing religious gatherings during the pandemic,” Dr. Moosa noted.

Read more: Saudi Arabia closes entertainment centres as corona virus cases spike

However, Dr. Moosa maintains that “suspending the hajj is a sensitive question and requires a scholarly consensus of Muslim religious and political leaders”. He notes that “already, the images of the holy mosques of Mecca and Medina being emptied of believers have caused deep anguish among devout Muslims”. Therefore, he opines “Saudi Arabia has been reluctant to suspend the pilgrimage, fearing a backlash”.

Dr. Moosa argued that the Hajj should be suspended for the public while giving reference from the holy Quran. He says that “the Quran is explicit: “And do not with your own hands invest in destruction.” Prophet Muhammad taught that one should avoid contaminating others during epidemics”.

He argues that: “While Islamic teachings mandate that a handful of people nominally perform the hajj under strict supervision, Saudi authorities can meet that requirement by allowing a very small number of locals to perform the hajj under socially distanced conditions equipped with protective gear.”

Read more: MBS struggles to make Saudi Arabia a moderate state

Finally, Dr. Moosa believes that since “the hajj was adopted in Islam, historians say, it has been suspended some 40 times. Plague in the Ottoman Empire resulted in the hajj of 1814 being severely disrupted due to the absence of the pilgrims”.