Putting an end to the months-long mystery of whether the annual pilgrimage of hajj will be conducted this year or not, Saudi Arabia on Monday issued an official statement clearing any doubts. While the countries around the world, including India, were waiting for Saudi Arabia's final word on this year's hajj, it has been decided that the holy ritual will be performed with limited number of Saudi citizens and residents, barring any worshippers from abroad.
The decision is taken in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time ever, the hajj rituals, which usually is an overcrowded affair, will be carried out with social distancing kept in mind to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This is also the first time in the modern times that Muslims from around the world won't be attending the two holiest sites in Islam to perform the annual pilgrimage.
"This decision is taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols to protect human beings from the risks associated with this pandemic and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving the lives of human beings," the ministry that oversees pilgrimages said in a statement.
Hajj 2020 from India
Earlier this month, the Haj Committee of India announced that it would be willing to refund the full amount paid towards Haj 2020 travel. At the same time, the committee did not announce at the time that it would cancel all applications for this year's pilgrimage pending Saudi's announcement. Now, the Haj Committee of India would have to announce the cancellation of Hajj 2020 from India this year.
Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia
Coronavirus cases continue to rise around the world and Saudi Arabia has reported over 160,000 cases so far with 1,307 deaths. With over 2 million pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina every year during the Hajj season, the decision to allow "limited number" of Saudi residents is a wise and thoughtful move. By canceling Hajj and Umrah, Saudi Arabia's earnings, which amount to $12 billion annually, have taken a major hit. There's no word on when Saudi will allow pilgrims for Umrah yet.