Saudi Arabia on Monday introduced it will maintain a “very restricted” hajj this 12 months, with pilgrims already within the kingdom allowed to carry out the annual ritual because it strikes to curb the most important coronavirus outbreak within the Gulf.
The choice marks the primary time in Saudi Arabia’s fashionable historical past that Muslims exterior the dominion are barred from performing the hajj, which final 12 months drew 2.5 million pilgrims.
The transfer to reduce the five-day occasion, scheduled for the tip of July, is fraught with political and financial peril and comes after a number of Muslim nations pulled out of the ritual that varieties one of many major pillars of Islam.
The dominion’s hajj ministry mentioned it is going to be open to numerous nationalities already in Saudi Arabia, but it surely didn’t specify a quantity.
“It was determined to carry the pilgrimage this 12 months with very restricted numbers… with completely different nationalities within the kingdom,” the official Saudi Press Company mentioned, citing the ministry.
“This resolution is taken to make sure the hajj is carried out in a protected method from a public well being perspective… and in accordance with the teachings of Islam.”
The hajj, a should for able-bodied Muslims no less than as soon as of their lifetime, may very well be a significant supply of contagion because it packs thousands and thousands of pilgrims into congested spiritual websites.
The choice comes as Saudi Arabia grapples to include a significant spike in infections, which have now risen to greater than 161,000 circumstances — the very best within the Gulf — and over 1,300 deaths.
However regardless of the surge, Saudi Arabia on Sunday moved to finish a nighttime coronavirus curfew throughout the dominion and carry restrictions on companies, together with cinemas and different leisure venues.
The announcement to carry a restricted hajj would seemingly disappoint thousands and thousands of Muslim pilgrims around the globe who usually make investments their life financial savings and endure lengthy ready lists to make the journey.
However it will seemingly appease home pilgrims, who feared the ritual would fully be cancelled for the primary time in latest historical past.
“Saudi Arabia has chosen the most secure possibility that enables it to save lots of face inside the Muslim world whereas ensuring they aren’t seen as compromising on public well being,” Umar Karim, a visiting fellow on the Royal United Companies Institute in London, informed AFP.
“However there are many unanswered questions: What’s the precise variety of pilgrims that might be allowed? What’s the standards for his or her choice? What number of Saudis, what number of non-Saudis?”
Saudi authorities mentioned the hajj ministry will maintain a information convention on Tuesday to flesh out the small print.
In an obvious bid to provide the choice a veneer of non secular sanction, the Saudi-based Muslim World League mentioned it endorsed the federal government transfer for the well being and security of pilgrims, in keeping with state media.
The choice nonetheless dangers annoying hardline Muslims exterior the dominion for whom faith trumps well being considerations.
It might additionally immediate Saudi Arabia’s rivals to resume scrutiny of its custodianship of Islam’s holiest websites — the dominion’s strongest supply of political legitimacy.
A collection of lethal disasters over time, together with a 2015 stampede that killed as much as 2,300 worshippers, prompted criticism of the dominion’s administration of the hajj.
“Tough 12 months”
A watered-down hajj would signify a significant lack of income for the dominion, which is already reeling from the dual shocks of the virus-induced slowdown and a plunge in oil costs.
The smaller year-round umrah pilgrimage was already suspended in March.
Collectively, they add $12 billion to the Saudi economic system yearly, in keeping with authorities figures.
“This has been a extremely tough 12 months, with Saudi Arabia dealing with declining income from all sectors — oil, tourism, home consumption, and now umrah and hajj,” Karen Younger, a scholar on the American Enterprise Institute, informed AFP.
A full-scale hajj with thousands and thousands of pilgrims was unlikely after authorities suggested Muslims in late March to defer preparations because of the fast-spreading illness.
Earlier this month, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, emerged as one of many first nations to withdraw from the pilgrimage after urgent Riyadh for readability. An Indonesian minister known as it a “very bitter and tough resolution”.
Malaysia, Senegal and Singapore adopted go well with with related bulletins.
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