Saudi Arabia mentioned Tuesday that due to the coronavirus solely “very limited numbers” of individuals can be allowed to carry out the annual hajj pilgrimage that historically attracts round two million Muslims from around the globe.
The determination comes after weeks of hypothesis over whether or not Saudi Arabia would cancel the pilgrimage altogether or enable the hajj to be held in symbolic numbers.
It’s unclear why the federal government waited till simply 5 weeks earlier than the hajj to announce its determination, however the timing signifies the sensitivity round main choices regarding the hajj that have an effect on Muslims around the globe.
Saudi kings have for generations assumed titles as custodians of Islam’s holiest websites, and their oversight of the hajj is a supply of status and affect amongst Muslims globally.
The hajj additionally generates round $6 billion in income for the federal government yearly.
Saudi Arabia has by no means cancelled the hajj within the almost 90 years because the nation was based.
Risks related to giant gatherings
The authorities mentioned its determination to drastically restrict the variety of pilgrims was aimed toward preserving international public well being because of the lack of a vaccine or a treatment for these contaminated, in addition to the dangers related to giant gatherings of individuals.
Despite taking early and unprecedented measures to regulate the unfold of the virus domestically, Saudi Arabia has one of many highest charges of coronavirus infections within the Middle East, with greater than 161,000 complete confirmed circumstances and 1,307 deaths.
The hajj is among the greatest gatherings on Earth, with pilgrims staying in shut confines and strolling and praying shoulder-to-shoulder.
A stampede in 2015 brought about greater than 2,400 deaths.
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“This decision was taken to ensure hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective,” the federal government assertion mentioned.
The kingdom’s Ministry of Hajj mentioned solely folks of varied nationalities already residing within the nation could be allowed to carry out the massive pilgrimage, which is about to start this yr on the finish of July.
The authorities didn’t specify how many individuals could be permitted to participate.
The hajj centres round 5 intense days of worship and rituals in Mecca, nonetheless pilgrims usually start arriving to Saudi Arabia by its essential gateway metropolis of Jiddah weeks and even months prematurely.
Safety a ‘prime precedence’
Saudi Arabia mentioned its “top priority is to always enable Muslim pilgrims to perform the hajj and Umrah rites safely and securely.”
It defended its determination on spiritual grounds, as nicely, saying that the teachings of Islam require the preservation of human life.
Saudi Arabia’s prime council of clerics swiftly issued an announcement saying the choice is in step with Islamic Shariah regulation.
Performing the hajj is central to Islam and one of many faith’s 5 pillars. All able-bodied Muslims are required to carry out the hajj as soon as of their lifetime, with many saving cash their total lives to afford the journey.
The hajj is seen as an opportunity to wipe clear previous sins and begin recent.
Pilgrims shed symbols of materialism, as girls forgo make-up and fragrance and put on loose-fitting clothes and a head masking, whereas males gown in seamless, white terrycloth clothes meant to emphasise the equality of all Muslims earlier than God.
Suspensions, closures and restrictions
Saudi Arabia had already suspended the smaller year-round Umrah pilgrimage earlier this yr and closed the Grand Mosque in Mecca, residence to Islam’s holiest website, to the general public.
The metropolis of Mecca was additionally underneath a strict 24-hour curfew for greater than two months.
Although Saudi Arabia has lifted some restrictions in current days, the Umrah continues to be suspended and the nation’s borders stay shut to guests and vacationers.
Indonesia and Malaysia, which mixed ship round a quarter-million Muslims to the hajj annually, had already introduced they might not be sending their residents to the pilgrimage this yr, partially as a result of it had change into too late to organize for it.
In an early indication of the uncertainty round this yr’s hajj, the dominion had requested Muslims in the beginning of April to delay planning for the pilgrimage because the virus grew into a world pandemic, infecting hundreds of thousands around the globe.