COVID-19: Uncertainty Looms Over This Year’s Hajj

Although millions of Muslims around the world, including Bangladesh, have been enthusiastically waiting to conduct the hajj at the end of July this year, confusion is hovering over their largest congregation, as the Saudi government has yet to take any decisions in this regard as the coronavirus pandemic continues to deteriorate.

In the midst of speculation that the Holy Hajj might be canceled this year as coronavirus spread to most countries of the world, on March 31, Saudi Arabia urged Muslims to delay their Hajj preparations.

Speaking to the media, State Minister for Religious Affairs Sheik Md Abdullah said that the Saudi government is yet to take any decisions on Hajj this year.

“Now it depends on Saudi government’s decision and the coronavirus situation,” he said.

A total of 137,198 Bangladeshi nationals were expected to fly to Saudi Arabia to conduct Hajj this year, with 17,198 under government and 120,000 under non-government administration, officials said.

According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, 64,594 people have enrolled to conduct hajj this year—3,457 under government administration and 61,594 under private control.

Earlier on February 24, the Cabinet approved the draft Hajj Package-2020, fixing the minimum cost for an intending pilgrim at Tk 3.15 lakh under package-3 managed by the government.

Asked about registration for hajj, Abdullah said, “Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the registration process is on as we can send people to the pilgrimage after the announcement of the Saudi government.”

However, the number of people getting registered for hajj is low this year due to uncertainty over the pandemic.

Asked if the intending pilgrims miss the chance to perform hajj this year despite registration, the State Minister said, “They’ll be allowed to perform hajj next year.”

Assuring those who have already got registered for hajj, Abdullah said, “Don’t worry. If you cannot perform hajj this year, you can do it next year, and if you want your money back, it’ll be given. I can give you that guarantee.”

The hajj registration process completed on April 30 after the extension of the deadline several times.

Religious Affairs Secretary Nurul Islam told media the time for registration will not be extended anymore due to the coronavirus situation.

“There’s uncertainty over hajj this year, and everybody knows that,” he said adding, “We’ll take steps after seeing the Saudi government’s decision. Whatever be the decision, nobody will be deprived of the hajj money they spent for registration, he added.

M Shahadat Hossain Taslim, president of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB), said, “We’re ready now as the registration for hajj is completed. It’s really hard to confirm about hajj this year. Still, we’re waiting for the final decision.”

The hajj pilgrimage is expected to begin on July 30 this year, depending on the sighting of the moon.

The pilgrimage has not been canceled since the founding of the Saudi Kingdom in 1932, reports AP.

Diseases and Hajj

There are reports that the first time an epidemic of any kind caused hajj to be canceled was an outbreak of plague in A.D. 967. And drought and famine caused the Fatimid ruler to cancel overland hajj routes in A.D. 1048, reports AP.

However, during the 19th century, thousands of pilgrims died in cholera outbreaks for many years during the Hajj.

One epidemic of cholera in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in 1858 caused thousands of Egyptians to evacuate to Egypt's Red Sea coast, where they were quarantined until they were permitted to travel.

Through most of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, cholera remained a "perennial danger" which triggered periodic disturbances to the annual hajj.

It was the epidemic. The outbreak of cholera in India in 1831 destroyed the lives of thousands of pilgrims on their way to hajj.

In fact, with so many outbreaks in such quick succession, hajj was frequently interrupted throughout the mid-19th century.

The global death toll from coronavirus climbed to 334,616 as of Friday morning.

According to worldometer data, the confirmed coronavirus cases in various countries of the world are now 5, 194,106.

Source: UNB

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