Written by Prakriti Panwar, a grade 11 student.
The fear of the COVID-19 has put a hard stop to all religious gatherings, including Hajj- an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia. Mecca is the holiest city for the Muslim population as it is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Every year, around two million people from across the world attend the Hajj. Out of these, 200,000 are from Indonesia itself, the country with the highest Muslim population in the world.
The Indonesian government cancelled the pilgrimage because the government of Saudi Arabia ‘failed to provide certainty’. Though Jakarta (capital of Indonesia, a country in Southeast Asia ) had thought of sending half the number of usual pilgrims, the country decided to ban the entire pilgrimage from their side, for the sake of safety. Fachrul Razi, Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, admitted that “This was a very bitter and difficult decision. But we have a responsibility to protect our pilgrims and Hajj workers.”
The decision was announced just weeks before the first set of pilgrims were to leave for the Hajj and it highly disappointed those pilgrims who had been on the waiting list for years. Though the Hajj has been cancelled earlier due to wars and previous epidemics, this is the first time since 1932 (the year the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded) that something like this has happened.
Every year, Saudi Arabia gives quotas to pilgrims based on their country of origin. It is done to ensure fair distribution since Hajj is a pilgrimage that a Muslim must take at least once in their entire lifetime. This year, Indonesia’s quota was around 200,000 and 90 percent of pilgrims had already registered and made plans to take the trip.
The Saudi Arabian Government has also suspended Umrah- a pilgrimage to Mecca which can be taken at any time of the year, unlike the Hajj, which has to be taken according to the phases of the moon. This year it was to start from the 28 of July. Though Hajj is a huge source of income and monetary benefits for Saudi Arabia, it might become a hot-bed for the COVID-19 pandemic if pilgrims attend it in large numbers.
Singapore and other countries such as Malaysia have also taken similar decisions of cancelling the trip to Mecca this year. Pilgrims, on the other hand, have had a rather understanding attitude about the same and are quickly coming to terms with the decision.