Saudi Arabia’s minister of hajj and umrah said the world must be “patient in concluding hajj contracts” for this year until the COVID-19 situation becomes clearer, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday (Mar 31) citing the minister’s interview on state TV on the same day.
The minister, Dr. Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Banten, was quoted as saying that Saudi Arabia is concerned with the safety of all pilgrims and visitors.
Saudi Arabia halted all foreign umrah pilgrims since Feb 27 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and later also extended the suspension of umrah to local pilgrims.
The Kingdom has been putting in place strict measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, including stopping all international passenger flights, shuttering malls and suspending congregational prayers at all mosques. The latest step to restrict movement and human contact is curfews.
Hajj this year would start towards the end of July until early August.
2,489,406 pilgrims performed the hajj in 2019, with 75%, or 1,855,027 coming from abroad, according to data from Saudi’s General Authority for Statistics.
The hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime journey for most Muslims. Due to the quota system set by the Organisation of Islamic Conference in 1987, only 0.1% of each country's Muslim population are eligible to go for the pilgrimage in any one year. As a result, Muslims in some countries, such as Indonesia, wait many years to be able to go for the mandatory pilgrimage. Further, the number of hajj places per year is subject to availability of quota allotted by Saudi Arabia. For example, Saudi authorities reduced the quota between 2013 and 2016 by 20% to accommodate the expansion of facilities at Al Masjid Al Haram in Makkah.
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