Saudi Arabia likely to either cancel the largest annual congregation of Muslims or hold it symbolically
At least six countries have so far decided not to send pilgrims to this year’s Hajj, the greatest pilgrimage for the Muslims, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic — which has so far claimed 430,530 people including 932 in Saudi Arabia.
This year’s Hajj, depending on the sighting of the moon, will start on the evening of July 28 and end in the evening of August 2. The pilgrimage to Makkah is mandatory for once for every Muslim, who are financially and physically capable.
The authorities of Saudi Arabia are considering either to cancel this year’s Hajj or to do it in a symbolic manner, multiple sources familiar with the issue have told Dhaka Tribune.
The Muslims across the world, including from Bangladesh, the world’s third-largest Muslim country, are waiting for the decision, they said.
Around 2.5 million people took part in the Hajj in 2019.
Saudi Arabia had suspended Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage that can be performed anytime, in late February due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Until Sunday afternoon, the kingdom saw more than 123,300 Covid-19 cases and 932 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Of the six countries that opted not to take part in this year’s Hajj, the largest congregation of the believers of Islam, three Muslim-majority countries are Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, Malaysia and Brunei.
The other three, with small Muslim populations, are Southeast Asian countries Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia.
Indonesia was supposed to send over 220,000 pilgrims, Malaysia 36,000, and Brunei 1,000 this year. The number of the other three countries could not be known.
According to Bangladesh’s Religious Affairs Ministry, the country was supposed to send 137,198 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj this year. However, under the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, only 64,594 people have registered.
The government recently said it was ready to send pilgrims and waiting for Saudi Arabia’s final decision regarding Hajj.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is expected to come to a decision regarding this year’s pilgrimage within this week, according to international media and Bangladeshi officials.
They said the government in Riyadh is considering some options — including cancellation, very limited presence of people from Saudi Arabia or very limited delegations from across the world.
It would depend on how the coronavirus situation evolves in the coming days, they added.
If the Hajj is cancelled, it will be for the first time in the history of Saudi Arabia, which was founded in 1932.
Earlier, since 630 AD, the current pattern of hajj was disrupted for dozens of occasions due to political, economic or health reasons.