Coronavirus and Hajj

Coronavirus and Hajj

Coronavirus has caused a lot of destruction since the beginning of 2020 and has resulted in the cancellation of numerous events worldwide. Scientists have determined the nature of coronavirus and have come to the proposition that this is a respiratory disease that mainly spreads from one person to another by the means of respiratory droplets.

The transfer rate of coronavirus is very quick and it can affect everyone within at least one-meter range from the infected person. Till now there is no proper cure for this pandemic available in the market as it is a totally new kind of disease that has not been seen or heard of before. The only way to deal with this disease right now is to control it’s spread.

That is why governments have advised to maintain social distance and have ordered people not to leave their houses for unnecessary purposes. Curfew has been imposed in most of the countries to control this disease. In light of these current situations, many events have been canceled including the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Hajj which is the most important ritual in the Islamic world is also expected to be affected if this disease is not controlled.

The annual Hajj pilgrimage is will take place in the Holy city of Mecca in the months of late July and early August. According to an analysis, more than 2 million Muslims from around the world attend the Holy ritual every year. COVID 19 has caused countless events all around the world to be forced into the digital realm.

Even the annual G-20 summit is being organized due to this pandemic. Hajj, which is considered as one of the largest Muslim gatherings cannot be held digitally. It is practically impossible to do. Saudi Arabia has already canceled Friday (Jumma) prayers and Umrah. The government has ordered to vacate the mosque in Mecca. All the daily and weekly prayers have been suspended both inside and outside the mosques in the cities of Mecca and Medina.

Coronavirus threats in Saudi Arabia

As of 8th April 2020, Saudi Arabia had 2795 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country. These cases also included 21 confirm deaths. The government, however, took quick action against the virus in mid-March and it worked. The Saudi health minister warned that the coronavirus patients in Saudi are expected to rise from 10,000 to 200,000 in the coming months. All these stats and the cancellation of Umrah have raised more uncertainty towards the annual hajj.

How the cancellation of Hajj will affect the Saudi economy?

Pilgrimage is the second-largest source of income for the Saudi government after oil. Right now due to the price wars with Russia, the Saudi oil industry is in dire crisis. It is decreasing in demand globally which means that the Saudi oil revenues will be low for a long time. Therefore they are depending hugely on the Hajj 2020.

As we have discussed earlier, more than 2.5 Muslims from all around the globe are expected to attend the holy ritual. Hajj is being considered as the backbone of the ambitious economic reforms that are being planned by Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. If Hajj is canceled, the Saudi government is expected to bear an economic loss of more than 5 Billion US dollars.

This will drastically affect the Saudi economy as its oil business is already in jeopardy. More than half a million people are also employed in the country’s tourism sector which will also be affected greatly. Moreover, this will also be a shock to the Muslim world as Hajj is one of the most essential pillars of Islam.

Hajj is scheduled in the months of July and early August. People from all over the world will gather in the holy city of Mecca in huge numbers.  Most of them also spend a week or two in Medina for further prayers and holy rituals. During this current pandemic situation, it is very difficult to predict how this huge gathering and this enormous holy event can be kept up safely.

Mecca and Medina are already under strict curfew as new coronavirus cases are being reported every single day. Therefore all the mosques, markets, malls, and public places are being shut and people are ordered to stay inside their premises. This decision can also affect the journey of millions of Muslims to their spiritual home in Mecca.

Steps were taken by the Saudi government to prevent coronavirus

However, the Saudi government is working hard to reduce the spread of coronavirus. It is expected that the Hajj might take place if the virus is controlled or a vaccine is available. The Hajj can take place with fewer pilgrims from the local residencies. Such downsizing measures are already being implemented as the number of worshippers in Mecca’s grand mosque is being reduced to the staff, officials, and cleaners only.

The Saudi government is yet hopeful for the future of Hajj. They are working hard to control the widespread of coronavirus and to reduce the cases. The government is sure that the Hajj will take place but the number of pilgrims will be reduced in order to keep safe. Technological innovations are also set to be introduced to the pilgrims this year.

One such innovation is “nap pods” which are basically isolation pods where pilgrims are provided with a ventilated enclosed space where they can rest and perform their offerings to Allah. If this system is introduced, it can result in a safe Hajj experience. However, it cannot be provided to 2 million pilgrims.

Will Hajj take place in such pandemic conditions?

Hajj is a once in a lifetime obligation for all Muslims who can afford it. The Saudi hajj and umrah minister has suggested that all the pilgrims must put their plans on hold for now. The government says that it is too early to definitively cancel Hajj yet. Studies have suggested that unless a vaccine becomes available, social distancing should be maintained among people.

Therefore events like Hajj are unlikely to take place this year.  Calling off the pilgrimage seems unprecedented as it has not been done since the kingdom was established in 1932. This definitely will not be the first time as there have been at least 40 instances throughout Islamic history where the Hajj was canceled or the number of pilgrims was reduced significantly.

Plagues have disrupted the annual pilgrimage in recent times. It looks like the year 2020 maybe another one of such years where Hajj can be affected or canceled. Still, the Saudi government is working hard to control coronavirus. The government has already announced a 32 billion dollar fund to the health sector in order to control the effects of coronavirus.

The world’s reduced amount of oil along with the cancellation of Hajj may result in huge economic problems for the country. Muslims around the world who are preparing for the annual pilgrimage is likely to face disappointment in lights if the current pandemic outbreak.

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