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Saudi Officials Indicate Hajj Pilgrimage May Be Canceled This Year


A Last day of Hajj – all pilgrims in Mecca for farewell circumambulation of Kaaba (Photo by Omar Chatriwala at Wikicommons)

One unprecedented outcome of the global coronavirus panic, is that for the first time in human history, most of the world’s governments have outlawed religious gatherings. This has included the cancellation of the worshiping services of various faiths, the closure of religious schools and prayer meetings, as well as the cancellation of major pilgrimages. Most of the world’s churches, mosques, temples and synagogues have been forced to offer ‘virtual’ services instead, via livestreaming, or on television.

One of the world’s largest pilgrimages is The Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The Hajj is regarded as a mandatory religious duty for Muslims which must be carried out at least once during their lifetimes. This year, it may not happen due to public health fears over the coronavirus.

Mustafa Abu Sneineh from Middle East Eye reports….

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday laid the ground for this year’s Hajj pilgrimage to be cancelled, calling on pilgrims to defer preparations and travel bookings due to fears of the coronavirus pandemic.

Around two million people visit Mecca to perform the annual pilgrimage, which this year was set to begin in July, but plans have been thrown into doubt as the kingdom has recorded 1,563 coronavirus cases and 10 deaths.

Like many countries, Saudi Arabia has enforced a lockdown and curfew in an attempt to stem the outbreak, and entry to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina has been severely restricted. Riyadh has already suspended the lesser Umrah pilgrimage.

Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten, minister of Hajj and Umrah, told a Saudi TV channel that Muslims – who are expected to perform Hajj at least once in their lives – should “wait before concluding contracts”.

“We have asked our Muslim brothers around the world to wait before making contracts until things become clear,” Banten said.

“Under the current circumstances, as we are talking about the global pandemic, from which we have asked God to save us, the kingdom is keen to protect the health of Muslims and citizens,” he added.

Banten said that the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has refunded the fees of Umrah visas to travel agencies after visits to Mecca were suspended late in February.

Though Hajj has been cancelled several times over the centuries, since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s foundation in 1932 it has never missed a year, nor even during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1917-18 that killed millions of people worldwide.

But if Saudi Arabia cancels 2020’s Hajj, it will be added to a list of almost 40 dramatic cancellations since the first in 629. Middle East Eye takes a look at some of the most striking cancellations in history…

Continue this story at Middle East Eye

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