Saudi Arabia invites millions of Muslims from all over the world every year for the hajj pilgrimage. This holy ritual pumps cash into the economy and boosts the monarch’s reputation. In the nearly 90 years since the country’s founding, Saudi Arabia has never cancelled the hajj.
But this year Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that because of the coronavirus, very limited numbers of people would be permitted to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage that traditionally attracts around 2 million Muslims from around the world.
The decision could disappoint Muslims from around the world who have saved a once-in-a-lifetime religious experience for years. The order comes after weeks of speculation as to whether Saudi Arabia would altogether cancel the pilgrimage, or allow the hajj to be held in symbolic numbers.
It’s unclear why the government waited to announce its decision only five weeks before the hajj. Still, the timing is reflective of the uncertainty surrounding major hajj decisions affecting Muslims around the world.
The government said its decision to reduce the number of pilgrims drastically was intended to preserve global public health due to the absence of a virus vaccine or Cure for those infected and the risks associated with large crowds.
The Hajj Ministry of the Kingdom said that only people of different nationalities already residing in the country would be permitted to make the significant pilgrimage, which is scheduled to begin at the end of July this year. The government has not stated
how many people there will be allowed to participate.
Saudi Arabia said its that its top priority is always to make it safe and secure for Muslim pilgrims to perform the hajj and umrah rites.” The hajj is one of the five pillars of religion and a central to Islam. All competent Muslims are expected to conduct the hajj once in their lifetime, with many saving their entire lives to be able to afford the journey.
The hajj is seen as an opportunity to wipe off past sins and start fresh. Pilgrims shed symbols of materialism as women forgo maquillages and perfumes and wear loose-fitting clothes and head
coverings, while men dress in seamless white terrycloth garments to underline the equality of all Muslims before God.
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of coronavirus diseases in the Middle East, with more than 161,000 affirmed complete cases and 1,307 passings, regardless of taking early and uncommon measures to control the spread of the infection locally.
In most cases, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms which recover within weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause serious illness or death, especially in older patients or those with underlying health issues.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia had already suspended the smaller year-round Umrah pilgrimage and closed the Great Mosque in Mecca, home to the holiest site of Islam, to the public. The town of Mecca also had more than two months under a strict 24-hour curfew.
Indonesia and Malaysia, which together send about a quarter-million Muslims per year to the hajj, had already declared that they would not send their people to this year’s pilgrimage, partially because it had become too late to prepare for it.
In an early indication of the unpredictability surrounding this year’s hajj, the Kingdom had asked Muslims early April to delay making plans for the pilgrimage as the virus grew into a global pandemic, infecting millions around the world.