JAKARTA – Indonesia’s religious affairs ministry will push to June 1, at the latest, to make a decision whether to send pilgrims to the haj this year amid the continuing COVID-19 outbreak. The ministry earlier said it would decide by May 20.
The decision to wait a bit longer follows communications between President Joko Widodo and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz, ministry spokesperson Oman Fathurahman told Salaam Gateway.
According to the spokesperson, President Joko Widodo discussed with Saudi authorities the different possibilities for this year’s haj season, and then urged the religious affairs ministry to postpone any decision until June 1 in case of any developments.
Some countries, including neighbouring Singapore, have already decided not to send their pilgrims for the haj this year, citing health and safety reasons.
“We hope Saudi Arabia will make a decision on this season’s haj immediately. Whether it will be cancelled, or if it continues with a limited quota of pilgrims, or if it will restrict any specific ages or countries, or if it continues normally,” said Oman.
He said there will not be enough time to make all necessary preparations if Saudi Arabia makes a decision after early June.
“We need the decision as soon as possible as the time for the haj season is arriving and we need to make many preparations that usually must be completed 25 days before the start of the pilgrimage.”
The ministry is currently still processing the pilgrims’ haj payments and finishing boarding preparations for health inspections and protocols but it has postponed any new contracts and stopped receiving down payments for pilgrim services such as accommodation, catering, and transportation.
Oman said the quota for Indonesia’s pilgrims this year is 221,000. 203,320 are regular pilgrims and 17,680 are pilgrims on special visas that are issued directly by Saudi Arabia.
“We, along with commission VI of the house of representatives, have already agreed on three possible scenarios: if the haj continues normally there will be tighter health checks, if the haj continues but with limitations there will be sorting to determine which citizens are eligible, and for the worst case if the haj is halted, we will refund pilgrims and carry forward all [of this year’s] pilgrims to automatically become priority for next year in our SISKOHAT [haj] system,” said Oman.
In March Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Haj and Umrah issued an advisory to haj agencies around the world to stop taking on new reservations or payments with respect to the pilgrimage this year.
(Reporting by Yosi Winosa; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim email@example.com)
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