Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Hajj

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The COVID-19 pandemic affected the 2020 Hajj (pilgrimage), which is the fifth pillar of the Five Pillars of Islam, [1] where millions of Muslims from around the world visit Mecca and Medina every year during Hajj season for a week. Over 2,400,000 pilgrims attended Hajj in 2019. [2] Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 in crowded places, various international travel restrictions, and social distancing recommendations, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah advised Muslims to postpone their pilgrimage until the pandemic was mitigated. [3] However, in June 2020, the Ministry opened up Hajj to people of all nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia, with foreigners still banned from attending to ensure pilgrims' safety and prevent the transmission of COVID-19. [4] [5]

Contents

Background

The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing global pandemic caused by coronavirus disease 2019. [6] The outbreak of the virus was first noted in Wuhan, China in early December 2019. [7] On 30 January 2020, COVID-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization, and was declared a pandemic on 11 March 2020. [8] [9] The transmission of COVID-19 occurs mainly through personal contact with a carrier of the virus, which makes it highly contagious in small spaces where human contact is inevitable. [10] [11] [12] COVID-19 can be transmitted through contaminated objects that were touched or coughed on by an infected person. [13] [14] [15]

Historical cancellations of Hajj

Hajj (pilgrimage) has been cancelled 40 times through the history of Islam due to disease outbreaks, political disagreements, and battles. [16] [17] In 930-940 CE (318-328 AH), Hajj was canceled due to the Qarmatian attack, which led to the murder of 30,000 pilgrims and the looting of the Black Stone. [18] [19] In 1831, Hajj was suspended after the arrival of Indian pilgrims in Mecca led to the outbreak of a new plague, which is claimed to have killed more than half of the pilgrims in Mecca. [20] The first outbreak of cholera in Mecca occurred in 1846, killing more than 15,000 and causing a citywide plague lasting until 1850. A second outbreak of cholera happened in 1858, leading to pilgrims being quarantined inside Hajj camps in Egypt. [21] [22]

Hajj 2020

In February 2020, Saudi Arabia closed the two holy sites of Mecca and Medina to halt the spread of the virus, but reopened in early March. Later, measures were taken by the Saudi government to mitigate an outbreak of COVID-19, such as imposing a 24-hour curfew in Mecca and Medina. [23] [24]

Participant selection

On 23 June 2020, Saudi Arabia announced Hajj would be held for a limited number of pilgrims who resided within the country due to the high risk of COVID-19. [25] [26] The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah imposed restrictions to the type of pilgrims who can attend Hajj in 2020, only healthy Saudi residents between the ages of 20 and 50 with no COVID-19 symptoms were allowed to participate. [27] [28] [29] Participants had to first apply online, and preference was given to those who had not attended in the past. [30] Pilgrims were chosen from the COVID-19 recovery database, 70% of them were non-Saudi residents. [31]

Only ten thousand pilgrims were expected, as opposed to over two million in previous years. [32]

Safety measures

The Saudi Ministry of Health reported taking serious measures during the Hajj 2020. Pilgrims who were not affected by the virus were required to quarantine themselves at hotel rooms or at their homes if they lived close enough to Mecca for a week prior to the arrival to perform Hajj. [33] Inside the mosque, pilgrims were asked to maintain a safe social distance of two meters, and were separated into groups of 20 individuals who were accompanied by a guide through their whole Hajj performance. [34]

Hajj 2021

On 12 June 2021, Saudi authorities banned foreign visitors for the second consecutive year and limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 people. It also imposed as condition that people participating be between the ages of 18 and 65, vaccinated and without chronic diseases. [35] [36]

International reactions

On 15 May 2020, the Singapore Muslims Council (MUIS) advised to skip Hajj in this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 2 June 2020, the Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs declared cancelling the 2020 Hajj before any groups of Indonesian pilgrims headed to Mecca. [37] [38]

On 6 June 2020, the Indian Hajj Committee announced it would provide refunds to all the pilgrims who were unable to attend Hajj in 2020. [39] [40]

On 11 June 2020, Malaysia announced it was barring pilgrims from attending Hajj in 2020 out of concerns over the danger of COVID-19, and the high spreadability of the virus in crowded places. [41] [42]

See also

Related Research Articles

Mecca Holiest city in Islam and the capital of the Mecca Province of Saudi Arabia

Mecca, officially Makkah al-Mukarramah and commonly shortened to Makkah Arabic: مكة‎, romanized: MakkahHejazi pronunciation: [makːa], is a city and administrative center of the Mecca Province of Saudi Arabia, and the holiest city in Islam. The city is 70 km (43 mi) inland from Jeddah on the Red Sea, in a narrow valley 277 m (909 ft) above sea level. Its last recorded population was 1,578,722 in 2015. The estimated metro population in 2020 is 2.042 million, making it the third-most populated city in Saudi Arabia after Riyadh and Jeddah. Pilgrims more than triple this number every year during the Ḥajj pilgrimage, observed in the twelfth Hijri month of Dhūl-Ḥijjah.

Mecca Province Administrative region of Saudi Arabia

The Mecca Province, also known as the Mecca Region, is one of the 13 provinces of Saudi Arabia. It is the third-largest province by area at 153,128 km2 (59,123 sq mi) and the most populous with a population of 8,557,766 as of 2017, of which 4,041,189 were foreign nationals and 4,516,577 were Saudis. It is located in the historic Hejaz region, and has an extended coastline on the Red Sea. Its capital is Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, and its largest city is Jeddah, which is Saudi Arabia's main port city. The province accounts for 26.29% of the population of Saudi Arabia and is named after the holy city of Mecca.

The 1987 Mecca incident was a clash between Shia pilgrim demonstrators and the Saudi Arabian security forces, during the Hajj pilgrimage; it occurred in Mecca on 31 July 1987 and led to the deaths of over 400 people. The event has been variously described as a "riot" or a "massacre". It arose from escalating tensions between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Since 1981, Iranian pilgrims had held an annual political demonstration against Israel and the United States, but in 1987, a cordon of Saudi police and the Saudi Arabian National Guard had sealed part of the planned anti-Western demonstration route, leading to a confrontation between them and the pilgrims. This escalated into a violent clash, followed by a deadly stampede. According to some beliefs, the conflict depended less on the religious centrality of the site and more on political choreography.

Mount Arafat Mountain and holy site in Saudi Arabia

Mount Arafat, also known by its Arabic name Jabal Arafat, and by its other Arabic name, Jabal ar-Rahmah, is a granodiorite hill about 20 km (12 mi) southeast of Mecca in the Makkah Province of Saudi Arabia. The mountain is approximately 70 m (230 ft) in height. Its highest point sits at an elevation of 454 m.

Umrah Islamic pilgrimage

The ʿUmrah is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to the Ḥajj, which has specific dates according to the Islamic lunar calendar.

Incidents during the Hajj Religious pilgrimage incident

There have been numerous incidents during the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, that have caused loss of life. Every follower of Islam is required to visit Mecca during the Hajj at least once in his or her lifetime, if able to do so; according to Islam, the pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During the month of the Hajj, Mecca must cope with as many as three million pilgrims.

The 2006 Hajj stampedeor crush resulted in the deaths of 363 pilgrims on 12 January 2006 during the Hajj in Mecca. It took place on Jamaraat Bridge around 1pm on 12 January 2006, the fifth and final day of the Hajj. Between two and three million pilgrims attended the Hajj in 2006. Earlier, on 5 January at least 76 pilgrims died when a hostel collapsed in Mecca.

Miqat

The miqat is the principal boundary at which Muslim pilgrims intending to perform the Ḥajj or Umrah pilgrimages must be enter the state of iḥrām, a state of consecration in which certain permitted activities are made prohibited.

Haj subsidy Subsidy given to Hajj pilgrims by Govt of India

The Haj subsidy was a subsidy based on religion that was given to Hajj pilgrims by the Government of India in form of discounted air fares, for food, accommodation, and for insurance so that a pilgrim can fly to Mecca for Hajj. The program has its origins in British colonial era. In post-colonial era, the Government of India expanded the program in 1959 with the Hajj Act. The subsidy initially applied to Indian Muslim pilgrims traveling for religious reasons to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan by road and by sea. Expanded Haj subsidy started in 1954, as an idea initiated by the then government, with flights between Mumbai and Jeddah. Additional flight legs were added over the years, and since 1984, all Hajj traffic has been shared by Air India and Saudia, the national carriers of India and Saudi Arabia. The monopoly of these airlines had proven the most contentious point of the subsidy, with some Muslims objecting to it by claiming falsely that the real beneficiary is Air India as the subsidy is actually a discount on an overpriced air fare. In the past, the Haj board used to call for a bid to fly these Muslims to Mecca and for past many years it is Saudia which came as the lowest bidder. There were also requests by Muslims to withdraw subsidy including some Muslim Parliament members as it is against Islam even it was beneficial and millions of Muslims used it to fly multiple times and stayed in Mecca and availed these subsidies. Since 2000, over 1.5 million Muslims have used the subsidy; since 2008, over 120,000 Indian Muslim every year make use of the subsidy. The Hajj subsidy includes an airfare subsidy as well as assistance to Muslim pilgrims for domestic travel to reach specially designed Haj departure airport terminals, meal, medical care and lodging assistance provided by the Government of India. In fact, Indian government has created separate Haj air terminals for these Muslim pilgrims for their convenience at major airports. The average airfare subsidy was about 73,526 (US$1,000) per Muslim pilgrim in 2008; while the average non-airfare financial assistance was 2,697 (US$38) per pilgrim. The total subsidy provided by the Government of India was US$1,815 per Muslim pilgrim in 2008. In a Central Haj Committee meeting in November 2017, it was decided that Haj subsidy will be completely phased out in 2018 and funds will be utilised on educational programmes especially for girl children of the minority community. On 16 January 2018 Union minister for minority affairs said that the Hajj subsidy has been completely taken off and this amount will be made used for educational purposes of the children belonging to minority.

Kaaba Building at the center of Islams most important mosque, the Masjid al-Haram

The Kaaba, also spelled Ka'bah or Kabah, sometimes referred to as al-Kaʿbah al-Musharrafah, is a building at the center of Islam's most important mosque, the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Islam. It is considered by Muslims to be the Bayt Allah and is the qibla for Muslims around the world when performing salah.

Hajj Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca

The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and of supporting their family during their absence from home.

2009 Jeddah floods

The 2009 Saudi Arabian floods affected Jeddah, on the Red Sea (western) coast of Saudi Arabia, and other areas of Makkah Province. They have been described by civil defence officials as the worst in 27 years. As of 3 January 2010, some 122 people had been reported to have been killed, and more than 350 were missing. Some roads were under a meter of water on 26 November, and many of the victims were believed to have drowned in their cars. At least 3,000 vehicles were swept away or damaged. The death toll was expected to rise as flood waters receded, allowing rescuers to reach stranded vehicles.

Ministry of Health (Saudi Arabia) Saudi Arabian ministry

The Ministry of Health, commonly abbreviated to MOH, is the ministry overseeing the health care and health policy of Saudi Arabia. The ministry is tasked with formulating strategies to ensure public health in the country, while also managing crucial health infrastructure.

Masjid al-Haram Islams holiest mosque located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Masjid al-Haram, also known as the Great Mosque of Mecca, is a mosque that surrounds the Kaaba in Mecca, in the Makkah Province of Saudi Arabia. It is a site of pilgrimage in the Hajj, which every Muslim must do at least once in their lives if able, and is also the main phase for the ʿUmrah, the lesser pilgrimage that can be undertaken any time of the year. The rites of both pilgrimages include circumambulating the Kaaba within the mosque. The Great Mosque includes other important significant sites, including the Black Stone, the Zamzam Well, Maqam Ibrahim, and the hills of Safa and Marwa.

2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak Epidemic of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus

Since 2012, an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus has affected several countries, primarily in its namesake, the Middle East. The virus, which causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), is a novel coronavirus that was first identified in a patient from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on June 6, 2012.

2015 Mina stampede

On 24 September 2015, an event described as a "crush and stampede" caused deaths estimated at well over 717 pilgrims, suffocated or crushed during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, making it the deadliest Hajj disaster in history. Estimates of the number of dead vary; the Associated Press reported 2,411 dead, while Agence France-Presse reported 2,236 killed. Based on the total of the individual national reports cited in the table below, at least 2,431 people died. The government of Saudi Arabia officially reported two days after the event that there had been 769 deaths and 934 injured. These figures remained official at the time of the following year's Hajj and were never updated. The largest number of victims was from Iran, followed by Mali and Nigeria.

On 3 July 1990, an incident occurred during the Hajj in which 1,426 people were suffocated and trampled to death in a tunnel near Mecca. Until the 2015 Mina stampede, this incident had the highest death toll of any Hajj tragedy in modern times.

Ministry of Hajj and Umrah Government ministry in Saudi Arabia which is tasked with Hajj and Umrah related issues

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is a Saudi government ministry which is in charge of handling issues of Hajj and Umrah in the Kingdom. The ministry assures safe arrival and departure of pilgrims and visitors arriving in Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah. The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is authorized to tackle all Hajj-related issues. It mainly coordinates between different sectors working for Hajj and Umrah operations as well as between different Hajj-related agencies in Muslim countries and worldwide. Moreover, the Ministry is responsible for developing plans, implementing and supervising the services provided to pilgrims and visitors of the Two Holy Mosques.

The COVID-19 pandemic in Saudi Arabia is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The first case in the kingdom was confirmed by the Ministry of Health on 2 March 2020 and in the following months, the kingdom held the highest number of confirmed cases in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on religion Impact of COVID-19 on religion

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted religion in various ways, including the cancellation of the worship services of various faiths and the closure of Sunday schools, as well as the cancellation of pilgrimages, ceremonies and festivals. Many churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples have offered worship through livestream amidst the pandemic.

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