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Sunday, November 26, 2023

Is Saudi Arabia going to suspend Hajj due to COVID-19?

Muslim scholars are now debating whether Saudi Arabia should suspend Hajj for this year or not. What does the Holy Quran say about the suspension of Hajj? Read a detailed view here.

Federal Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri has said that Pakistan is in contact with Saudi authorities regarding quota for this year’s Hajj. As of now, there is no clarity whether Saudi Arabia shall suspend Hajj for this year due to COVID-19 or not.

According to Noorul Haq Qadri, Saudi authorities have presented their recommendations regarding Hajj to King Salman. The recommendation regarding conducting this year’s pilgrimage on a limited scale is under consideration, he said. Saudi authorities are considering allowing 20 percent Pakistani pilgrims to perform the pilgrimage, the minister said. However, a final decision in this regard is expected next week, he added.

Read More: Will Saudi Arabia allow women to perform Hajj without male guardian?

On March 4, Saudi authorities canceled the umrah, a voluntary meritorious pilgrimage, for its citizens. Foreign citizens were already barred from traveling to the kingdom for the umrah.

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.

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.

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

Notably, the Indonesian Religious Affairs Ministry has decided to outright cancel the hajj 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis that is still affecting Saudi Arabia.

Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi on Tuesday asserts that the global scale pandemic has affected the social aspects of religious worship, which is why the ministry had formed a Hajj 2020 crisis center early on.  “The team has conducted a special study on three schemes regarding the Hajj 2020,” said Fachrul in today’s press conference.

Can Hajj be suspended?

As the deadly pandemic is spreading across the world, prominent religious scholars and commentators propose the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to suspend Hajj for this year.

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.

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”.

Read More: Why is Biometric Verification necessary before going on Hajj?

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.”

Moreover, 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”.

Ibn Rushd the Elder (the grandfather of the famous philosopher, physician and jurist Averroes) argued that a Muslim risking a dangerous journey incurred a sin, a stern warning to anyone who ignores the dangers posed by the current pandemic.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who holds the title “Custodian of the Two Holy Sanctuaries,” would advance a global public good by notifying the Muslim world of the hajj’s suspension, concluded Dr. Moosa.