The blow of Hajj 2020 ‘cancellation’ across the Muslim world

‘This makes me very sad because every Muslim hopes to go to hajj once in his whole life, and when it was my turn, it was cancelled. I’m very upset because I’m not sure if I’ll be alive in the next few days, let alone next year.’

FOR much of his life, Abdul-Halim al-Akoum stashed away cash in hopes of one day travelling from his Lebanese mountain village to perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims who can are obliged to make once in their lives. He was all set to go this year until the coronavirus pandemic forced Saudi Arabia to effectively cancel the hajj for what some scholars say maybe the first time in history.

“It is the dream of every Muslim believer to visit Mecca and do the hajj. But the pandemic came with no warning and took away that dream,” said Mr al-Akoum, 61, a village official.

The Saudi announcement, in June, sent shock waves of sadness and disappointment across the Muslim world, upending the plans of millions of believers to make a trip that many look forward to their whole lives and which, for many, marks a profound spiritual awakening.

A 72-year-old retired port worker in Pakistan will stay home, despite his six children having pooled their money to finance his trip. A mother in Kenya will forgo visiting sites she has long dreamed of seeing. An Egyptian school administrator named Zeinab Ibrahim burst into tears. “It was my only wish. To cancel it completely is such a shame. May God relieve us of this burden,” Ms. Ibrahim said.

Performing the pilgrimage at least once for those who are physically and financially able is one of the five pillars of Islam. Making the trip is such a sacred milestone for the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims that in parts of the Arab world, families of returned pilgrims paint murals on their homes to alert their neighbours to the pilgrim in their midst.

Many people save up their entire lives to make the hajj and, before modern transportation, spent months getting there.

The pilgrimage conveys such religious status that many Muslims add the honorific ‘al-Hajj’ or ‘Hajji’ to their names on their business cards.

“The hajj is a transformative, emotional and spiritually moving experience — the spiritual pinnacle of a devout Muslim’s life,” said Yasir Qadhi, dean of the Islamic Seminary of America, who was supposed to lead a group of 250 pilgrims to Mecca this year. Since the Saudi announcement, he added, “There’s a sense of deflation and spiritual loss, and a great sadness.”

The hajj is also big business. The hajj, a five- or six-day pilgrimage that starts this year at the end of July, and the umrah, a lesser pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of the year, earn Saudi Arabia billions of dollars each year, and Muslim communities from Texas to Tajikistan have travel agencies specialising in getting pilgrims to and from the holy sites and providing accommodation along the way.

“It is a catastrophe on all levels — economic, social and religious,” said Tariq Kalach, who runs a Beirut travel agency that was planning to take 400 pilgrims to Mecca this year. Pilgrimage packages cost from $3,000 to $10,000, he said. He also provides services to a number of Islamic associations that pay for groups of poor Muslims to make the trip each year. He said the cancellation was devastating, but that it was the right thing to do. “It is a very dangerous virus and it will spread like a brush fire. May the Almighty make things easy for the Muslims,” he said.

The Saudi government, for which the hajj is a major source of prestige and tourism, announced Monday, June 22, that no pilgrims from outside the kingdom could perform the hajj this year in order to prevent contagion. The next day, Saudi officials narrowed the order, saying that only about 1,000 pilgrims would be permitted this year — a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million who came last year.

The pilgrimage has been interrupted or curtailed many times because of wars and disease, but has faced no significant limits on attendance since the mid-1800s, when outbreaks of cholera and plague kept pilgrims away for a number of years.

Saudi Arabia, whose king bears the title “the custodian of the two holy mosques,” a reference to holy sites in Mecca and Medina, has never cancelled the hajj since the modern kingdom was founded in 1932. Dr Qadhi said: “This is the first time in the global phenomenon of the hajj that it has been cancelled in such a manner. The dynamics have changed. Five hundred years ago, you couldn’t ban it. There were no passports, no visas.” The Mongol invasion of the Levant in the 13th century, for example, prevented pilgrims from reaching Mecca, he said, “but even then, the locals did it.”

Only a few criticised the decision to limit the event since Saudi Arabia is suffering from one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the Middle East, with 161,000 declared infections and more than 1,300 deaths. Epidemiologists have warned that mass gatherings — from concerts to sporting matches — can become so-called super-spreader events.

Khalid Almaeena, a Saudi political and media analyst who has attended the hajj many times, said that much of the pilgrimage’s importance comes from the way it mixes Muslims from different countries, races and social classes who might not otherwise cross paths. “This is the religious, social, cultural aspect of the hajj. It is not just the ritual, but the meeting places, the many great friendships and bonds that are established and built there year after year,” he said.

In Egypt, the economic hardship of recent years has turned the hajj into an elusive dream for many, which only sharpened the blow of the cancellation. Ms. Ibrahim, the school administrator, applied four years in a row to a government lottery that offers free trips to the hajj, failing every time. But this year, she scraped together the cost from her own funds. “I wanted to go while my health is still good. I didn’t care about the cost,” said Ms. Ibrahim, 58, who earns about $175 a month.

In many countries, even those who can muster the expense often wait years to be included in their country’s quota of pilgrims, which are set by Saudi Arabia with the aim of equalising the opportunity across the Muslim world. Imam Mokhi Turk, 45, said that 15 people from his embattled farming village in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, had been waiting for their turn to do the hajj and that some of his neighbours had sold land to pay for it. Mr Turk and four of his relatives registered for the pilgrimage four years ago, but only he made the list this year. “This makes me very sad, because every Muslim hopes to go to hajj once in his whole life, and when it was my turn, it was canceled. I’m very upset because I’m not sure if I’ll be alive in the next few days, let alone next year,” Mr Turk said.

Since the first hajj in 632, Muslims have travelled to Mecca in the face of hardship, adversity and disasters, gradually transforming the pilgrimage from an elite pursuit limited to small numbers of people into one of the world’s largest Muslim gatherings. For centuries, it was a feat just to make it to Mecca in one piece.

Under the Ottoman Empire, camel-riding pilgrims crossed the vast deserts of Arabia in giant caravans that set out from Cairo or Damascus in a journey often taking six weeks and vulnerable to attacks by Bedouin bandits.

Others came by sea, braving storms, disease outbreaks in crowded ships, and other threats. In 1502, the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, battling for control of trade routes, captured a ship filled with pilgrims as it returned from Mecca, set it on fire and killed several hundred people. In the 19th century, periodic cholera epidemics killed thousands of pilgrims.

The Suez Canal shortened the sea voyage for many after it opened in 1869, and the advent of motor vehicles eased the land voyage starting in the 1920s. Even then, numbers remained low: The hajj of 1929 registered 66,000 pilgrims. The numbers started soaring in the 1970s, as mass air travel became more affordable, and Saudi rulers recognised that the pilgrimage brought not just religious prestige but also income. The hajj currently earns the kingdom billions of dollars a year.

Since the 1990s, the pilgrimage has been marred by stampedes, giant tent fires and worries about outbreaks of diseases such as SARS or, more recently, MERS. The deadliest stampede occurred in 2015 when more than 2,200 people died. Despite the periodic tragedies, the Saudi authorities never cancelled it.

The cancellation weighs particularly heavily on older Muslims who have been waiting for years to go in hopes that they can fulfill their religious obligation before death. “I have been dreaming about it for 20 years and I hoped to do it before I got this old,” said Firiyan al-Masri, 68, a woman from Beirut. Finally this year, she got her name on the list of a Lebanese Islamic association that finances trips for those in need, only to see her chances dashed by the pandemic.

“If God wills it, I will do the pilgrimage next year. If I am still alive,” she said.

Source: The New York Times.


Umar assumes duty as EFCC acting boss
THERE was confusion on Wednesday over who steps in as acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as the Director of Operations in the commission, Mohammed Umar… Read Full Story

VP Osinbajo Denies Receiving N4billion From Magu
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has described online reports claiming that embattled acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, gave him N4billion as false and baseless fabrications… Read Full Story

Hard Currencies Found In My House Are Gifts, Ex-NNPC GMD, Yakubu, Tells Court
The Former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu, on Wednesday, told the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja that the $9.7 million and £74, 000.00 the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) found in his Kaduna residence in 2017, were part of… Read Full Story

Ondo 2020: APC Caretaker Committee Sticks To Indirect Primary
The All Progressives Congress (APC) caretaker committee led by Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, has upheld the decision of the dissolved National Working Committee of the party which adopted indirect option as the mode of primary to produce its standard-bearer in Ondo State, ahead of October governorship… Read Full Story

What Nigerians Must Know About Bubonic Plague —Experts
Bubonic plague, caused by bacteria and transmitted through flea bites and infected animals, is one of the deadliest bacterial infections in human history. In this report by SADE OGUNTOLA, experts review possibilities of bubonic plaque re-curring in Nigeria and how best an individual can get protected from it… Read Full Story

Number Of Candidates Jostling With Okonjo-Iweala For WTO Top Job Increases To 7
Eight candidates are now jostling for the top job at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), seeking to convince its 164 members they can steer the body through intensifying global trade tensions and rising protectionism, Reuters reported on Wednesday evening… Read Full Story

Fraud: Magu Must Face Prosecution, Says PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after reviewing the reported circumstances surrounding the investigation of the indicted acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, has demanded his prosecution… Read Full Story

Police arrest herbalist, others linked to Ibadan killings
THE Special Adviser to the Oyo State governor on Security, CP Fatai Owoseni (retd), on Wednesday, declared that peace would now reign in Akinyele Local Government Area of the state as those responsible for the rape and killings in communities across the local government had all been arrested… Read Full Story

Ivory Coast PM, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, Dies After Cabinet Meeting
Ivory Coast’s PM, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, has died after falling ill at a ministerial meeting, BBC reports. The 61-year-old had been chosen as the ruling party’s candidate for October’s presidential election after Alassane Ouattara said he would not seek a third term in office… Read Full Story

EDITORIAL: Must These Floods Continue To Wreak Havoc?
OVER the past couple of months, as the rainy season has set in, floods have caused deaths and extensive damage to property in different parts of the country. In Kwara State, at least three people were reported dead and others missing when a bridge embankment collapsed in Oko-Erin, Ilorin, the state capital… Read Full Story

Club For Restructured Nigeria Welcomes Obasanjo: SNC Before 2023 Elections
THE call for restructuring Nigeria has been the subject of discourse by many stakeholders who, over the years, have lent their voices – heard and unheard – towards revisiting the institutional, socio-economic and political structure of Nigeria. Without a doubt, diverse reasons exist for the call for restructuring Nigeria… Read Full Story

Child Sexual Abuse And Psychosocial Wellbeing In Adulthood
Child sexual abuse is a widespread problem that is, unfortunately, associated with stigma, shame and a tendency to secretly push under the carpet. Thus, in most instances, it often goes unreported. The family of the victim may also wish to avoid the societal stigma and public humiliation if it were to become common knowledge… Read Full Story

You might also like

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. AcceptRead More