Every year, Saudi Arabia welcomes hundreds of thousands of Muslims from around the globe for the hajj pilgrimage, a sacred ceremony that pumps money into the financial system and enhances the status of the monarch.
The kingdom introduced on Monday that the 2020 hajj, scheduled to happen subsequent month, would welcome “very limited numbers” of pilgrims so as to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The dramatic shrinkage of the most important annual ceremony in Islam may hit Saudi Arabia notably hard, with a decreased pilgrimage delivering an additional monetary blow to a kingdom already grappling with low oil costs and a financial slowdown brought on by the lockdowns aimed toward stopping contagion.
It may additionally disappoint Muslims from around the globe who’ve saved for years to have a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience.
The Saudi assertion on Monday marked the first time because the founding of the new Saudi kingdom in 1932 that such restrictions have been positioned on the hajj. The occasion is so intently linked to the king’s worldwide standing that he bears the title “the custodian of the two holy mosques,” a reference to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina the place the hajj takes place.
The pilgrimage has been canceled many occasions all through historical past due to wars and illness, however, it has confronted no important limits on attendance from the mid-1800s, when outbreaks of cholera and plague stopped pilgrims away for plenty of years.
On Monday, the dominion made clear it was not canceling the occasion outright, however drastically lowering the entire number of pilgrims for security reasons.
In a press release printed by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, which oversees the pilgrimage, stated the occasion this yr would welcome only pilgrims from Saudi Arabia and from different nationalities who’re already inside the country.
The statement didn’t specify what the goal attendance could be, however, the lack of pilgrims from overseas will certainly make for a lot smaller pilgrimage.
Last 12 months, of the 2.49 million pilgrims who carried out the hajj, 1.86 million got here from exterior Saudi Arabia, in accordance with the Saudi General Authority for Statistics.
Nor did the assertion specify what precautions can be taken to stop viral spread among the many pilgrims who did attend.
The pilgrimage’s circumstances can lend themselves to the unfold of contagious diseases. Pilgrims fly, drive or sail in from nations throughout the globe and sometimes kind dense crowds whereas performing a collection of spiritual rites over many days.
At night, many sleep close collectively in tents or different crowded lodging and share meals. After hajj, many return to their house to grand receptions with crowds of family and buddies.
In addition to its spiritual significance, the pilgrimage is a moneymaker for the country, and particularly for the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
The hajj and a lesser pilgrimage known as the umrah, which could be carried out year-round, earn the country about $12 billion per year, as per the authorities statistics. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, has spoken of boosting pilgrim numbers to assist diversify the economic system away from oil.
The kingdom wants that revenue much more now since low oil costs have disadvantaged the state of revenue and created a funds deficit.Saudi Arabia has struggled to include the virus whereas balancing lockdowns with the damage they’ve brought on to the financial system.
In March, the government of Saudi Arab imposed strict round the clock curfews in a large part of the nation, with exceptions just for medical care and important buying. It started a phased reopening final month and lifted the final remaining restrictions on Sunday.
But the variety of coronavirus instances has continued to rise, with the government of Saudi Arab reporting more than 160,000 total infections and more than 1,307 deaths.
In an effort to slow the virus’s spread, the country closed the holy sites in Mecca and Medina to non-Saudis in February, and in April, a Saudi official warned pilgrims planning to journey to the country for this year’s hajj to delay their plans.
Monday’s announcement of the restricted hajj will certainly disappoint many Muslims who had hoped this year to carry out the pilgrimage, one of the 5 pillars of Islam, which each Muslim who is in a position must undertake once in a lifetime.
So Muslims who’ve spent years saving for the journey and jockeying for bookings will now have to wait till the next year to try for the holy hajj once more.