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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Malaysia pulls out of Hajj due to coronavirus fears

Malaysia has decided to bar its citizens from performing the annual Hajj pilgrimage, over safety concerns caused by the coronavirus. Malaysia is not the first country to do so, with many in South East Asia also suspending Hajj for their citizens. This makes the Hajj logistics even more complicated for Saudi Arabia. Will there be Hajj in 2020?

Malaysia on Thursday pulled out of the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca over coronavirus fears days after neighbouring Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation, also withdrew. Malaysia pulling out of Hajj is a troubling development, and may throw Hajj 2020 in the doldrums, as the two more established Muslim powers have withdrawn their citizens from the pilgrimage.

Millions travel from around the world to Saudi Arabia every year to perform the hajj, a ritual that every Muslim must do once in their lives if able.

The virus pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 people worldwide, has thrown the end-of-July celebration into doubt, although Riyadh is yet to announce a decision on whether it will proceed.

Malaysia pulls out of Hajj citing safety concerns

Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri said it was not safe for the 31,600 pilgrims from Malaysia who had been due to go this year to take part due to the virus.

“This was a heavy decision to make,” he said, adding that those affected would be able to go on the hajj next year instead.

In Malaysia, a country of 32 million where about 60 percent are Muslims, the devout typically wait for years for the opportunity to perform the hajj.

Read more: Hajj 2020: Is Saudi Arabia considering limiting the number of pilgrimages?

Jakarta’s decision last week to withdraw removed the largest contingent of pilgrims — more than 220,000 Indonesians had been due to take part.

Malaysia’s virus outbreak has been relatively mild, with authorities reporting more than 8,000 cases and 118 deaths.

In contrast, Saudi Arabia has seen over 112,000 infections and 819 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

It has already suspended the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

Malaysia pulls out of Hajj: not the first country to do so

Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi on Tuesday canceled the departure of Hajj pilgrims for this year.

“The government has decided to cancel the Hajj 2020 as the Saudi Arabian authorities failed to provide certainty,” said Fachrul during a press conference in Jakarta.

The minister explained this decision was made after much consideration, especially regarding health concerns.

Read more: Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia: cases cross 100,000, Hajj threatened

He added 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.

Fachrul hoped that Hajj can take place next year.

Indonesia has the largest contingent of pilgrims with a quota of 221,00 people this year.

Additionally, Brunei also announced that its citizens would not perform the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca this year for health concerns amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a local media report.

Speaking in a press conference, Minister of Religious Affairs Awang Badaruddin Othman said the country would not send its 1,000 yearly selected pilgrims and those traveling at their own expenses to perform the Hajj, the daily Borneo Bulletin reported.

Baddarudin said the decision was made after Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah gave his consent to the recommendation of the Brunei Islamic Religious Council, which convened last Saturday to cancel Bruneian pilgrims participation in the Hajj.

“[…] regarding the participation of Hajj pilgrims, it is confirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic still poses a global threat and that the spread of this virus is not likely to cease in the near future,” he was quoted in the newspaper.

Brunei became the fourth country in Southeast Asia to withhold its Hajj pilgrims this year following Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Hajj in danger because of Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s hajj, scheduled for the end of July, but have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in the hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.

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

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.

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.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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