Opinion

If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent

An aerial view shows an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque on March 6, 2020. (Photo by Bandar Aldandani / AFP)
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Updated 01 August 2020

If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent

  • Saudi minister's remarks have called into question viability of this year's Hajj amid coronavirus crisis
  • The annual Islamic pilgrimage has a history of disruptions and cancellations going back centuries

JEDDAH: Will the Hajj, which draws millions of Muslims annually to Islam’s birthplace in Saudi Arabia, be suspended this year owing to the global coronavirus pandemic?
That question had been uppermost in the minds of millions of Muslims worldwide even before a Saudi official asked them to put on hold any plans to perform the obligatory pilgrimage, scheduled to begin in late July.
“We’ve asked our Muslim brothers around the world to wait” before making Hajj plans “until there’s clarity,” Dr. Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten, minister of Hajj and Umrah, told state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV in comments on March 31 that quickly bounced around the world.
He added: “We've asked the world not to rush with regards to Hajj groups until the path of the epidemic becomes clear, keeping in mind the safety of pilgrims and public health as a priority.”
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has taken the whole gamut of precautionary measures to control the spread of COVID-19 infection in Makkah and Madinah, yet a total of more than 480 active cases have been reported in the two holy cities so far.
Last month, the Kingdom suspended the Umrah pilgrimage until further notice, halted all international passenger flights indefinitely, and blocked the entry and exit to several cities, including Makkah and Madinah.
There have been 25 deaths reported among more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia.

Globally, more than 1,000,000 people have been infected and nearly 59,000 of them have died.
Against this backdrop, a decision to suspend the Hajj may seem at once inevitable and unprecedented.
In actual fact, the pilgrimage has experienced disruptions through the centuries due to circumstances beyond the control of Hajj authorities.
According to a report published by the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah), the first time the Hajj was interrupted was in 930 AD when the Qarmatians, a syncretic branch of Sevener Ismaili Shiite Islam that revolted against the Abbasid Caliphate, attacked pilgrims on the eighth day of Hajj.
The report says the Qarmatians, convinced that performing the Hajj was an act of idolatry, killed more than 30,000 pilgrims that year, desecrated Makkah’s Zamzam well with corpses, and ran off with the Black Stone of the Kaaba back to Hajr (Qatif nowadays), their capital on the Arabian Gulf at that time.
On account of the bloody assault, the Hajj was not performed for another 10 years, according to the Darah report.
The next disruption happened in 968 AD, says the report, citing Ibn Kathir’s book “Al-Bidaya wan-Nihayah.” It said a disease spread inside Makkah and claimed the lives of many pilgrims.

The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘If you hear of an outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it.’

At the same time, camels used for transporting pilgrims to Makkah died owing to a scarcity of water.
“Many of those who managed to reach Makkah safely could not live long after Hajj for the same reason,” according to the Darah report
Among those who came to Makkah to perform the Hajj in significant numbers were Egyptians.
But in 1000 AD, they could not afford to undertake the journey because of the high cost of living in the country that year.
Some 29 years later, no pilgrims from the East or Egypt came for the Hajj. According to the Darah report, in 1030 only a few Iraqi pilgrims managed to reach Makkah to perform the Hajj.
Nine years later, Iraqi, Egyptian, Central Asian and north Arabian Muslims were unable to perform the Hajj.
Dr. Emad Taher, head of the history department at King Abdul Aziz University, said the reason was political unrest and sectarian tensions.
Similarly, no one performed the Hajj in 1099 owing to fear and insecurity across the Muslim world as a result of wars.

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Some five years before the Crusaders seized Jerusalem in 1099, lack of unity among Muslim rulers of the Arab region meant that no Muslims could manage to reach Makkah to perform the Hajj.
In 1168, Egyptians found themselves locked in confrontation with Kurdish Commander Asaduddin Shirkuh, who was hoping to extend the Zangid dynasty to Egypt. The situation naturally did not allow Egyptians to perform the Hajj.
The pilgrimage was again disrupted in the 13th century. The Darah report says no people from outside the Hijaz region could perform the Hajj between 1256 and1260.
French leader Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria from 1798 to 1801 made the standard routes to Makkah unsafe for pilgrims.
More than two centuries on, a global pandemic has cast a huge shadow of uncertainty on the Islamic pilgrimage.
Hani Nasira, an Egyptian academic and writer, said if COVID-19 cases worldwide continue to increase, a decision to halt the Hajj should come as no surprise.
“If imposed, such a decision will be wise and in full compliance with the Islamic Shariah, which basically aims to protect and preserve peoples’ lives,” he told Arab News.
“In the Holy Qur’an, Allah says, ‘and do not kill yourselves.’ Also, the Prophet Muhammad warned his companions against epidemics.




Muslims visit the Kaaba during a pilgrimage to Makkah in 1954. (AP)

“Abdulrahman bin Awf narrated that the Prophet Muhammad had said, ‘if you hear of an outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it; but if that epidemic breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.’ This Hadith shows the significance of avoiding plagues.”
Nasira noted that the COVID-19 outbreak has claimed thousands of lives across the world and shows no sign of abating.
“The whole world is suffering from the swift spread of the coronavirus, which has filled people everywhere with unprecedented dread,” he told Arab News.
“With scientists having little information about the virus, a cure isn’t likely to come out soon, so the continuation of the situation makes suspending the Hajj necessary to protect lives.”
Nasira drew attention to the fact that some Muslim countries, including Iran and Turkey, are among the biggest casualties of the pandemic.
“We don’t want to add fuel to the fire. It’s illogical, and Islam also never accepts or approves that. If I were a mufti, I wouldn’t hesitate to call for a suspension,” he said.
Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, a researcher of Islamic studies, pointed out that the Hajj is not a limited ritual in the sense that it can be carried out at least once in the lifetime of an adult Muslim.
“Performing the Hajj isn’t limited to a specific time. An adult Muslim can perform the Hajj whenever he or she likes once they’ve reached the age of discretion,” he told Arab News.
“Prophet Muhammad, for instance, didn’t perform the pilgrimage in the first year the Hajj became a duty. He made his Hajj a year later,” said Al-Ghamdi, who specializes in Hadith and Islamic sciences. Like Nasira, he maintains that Islamic Shariah strongly backs public interest and wellbeing.
“In case of dire necessity, such as because of the spread of the coronavirus disease, political reasons or security compulsions, the Hajj can be suspended and this doesn’t contradict Islamic teachings,” Al-Ghamdi said. “The Almighty has ordered us to not expose ourselves to danger.”
Moreover, Al-Ghamdi said, the Hajj is founded in reason and logic, so if health officials find that a contagious sickness can cause deaths, preserving people’s lives is more important than the pilgrimage itself. “Nothing is wrong with this line of reasoning in Islamic Shariah,” he added.

 


Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths

Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths

  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 503,827
  • A total of 8,212 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 12 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,289 new infections on Thursday.
Of the new cases, 260 were recorded in Makkah, 253 in Riyadh, 220 in the Eastern Province, 100 in Jazan, 76 in Asir, 73 in Hail, 63 in Madinah, 42 in Tabuk, 41 in Najran, 30 in the Northern Borders region, 23 in Al-Baha, and 11 in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 503,827 after 1,299 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 8,212 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 26 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Saudi Arabia sends medical aid to Malaysia amid rising coronavirus infections

Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi Arabia sends medical aid to Malaysia amid rising coronavirus infections

  • The equipment included essential medical and preventive supplies and equipment
  • The one million doses of the coronavirus vaccine will be provided in coordination with the Malaysian foreign minister's office

DUBAI: Medical aid from Saudi Arabia arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday to help tackle the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, state news agency SPA reported.

The equipment, sent by the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid, included essential medical and preventive supplies and equipment.

This move comes in implementation of the directives of King Salman, following the request of Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein during his call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Meanwhile, the one million doses of the coronavirus vaccine will be provided in coordination with the Malaysian foreign minister's office. One of the approved international companies will supply the required quantities of vaccines directly from their factories to Malaysia.

Earlier on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia had sent medical aid to Uruguay to help the country in its fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

The equipment included 53 respirators and over 2.3 million surgical masks, in addition to protective clothing, medical gloves and other preventive supplies.


Saudi Food and Drug Authority seizes 412 tons of shrimp, fake food labels in Jazan

Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi Food and Drug Authority seizes 412 tons of shrimp, fake food labels in Jazan

  • Inspectors found modifications of data and expiry dates of the shrimps repackaged in new containers

JAZAN: Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) inspectors seized 412 tons of shrimp stocks after detecting fake food labels and product packages inside an illegal warehouse in Jazan region.

SFDA said that during the inspection and investigation operations, inspectors detected modifications of the data and the expiry dates of the product, which was repackaged in new containers.

The shrimp products, and packages and data labels were seized, in addition to another 500,000 labels bearing food data and cartons ready for packing.

As a result of the inspection, the authority closed the unlicensed warehouse and summoned those responsible for the facility to hear statements and complete the application of penalties and regulations against them.

According to food law and its executive regulations, the penalty for such violations can reach up to SR10 million ($2.6 million), in addition to a ban on the violator from practicing any food business for up to 180 days, as well as license suspensions and/or cancellations.

Violations of establishments under the supervision of the SFDA can be reported by calling the unified number (19999), or through its “Tameni” application available on the iOS and Android operating systems.

 

 


35,000 Saudi families benefit from Sakani housing scheme

Updated 29 July 2021

35,000 Saudi families benefit from Sakani housing scheme

  • Kingdom's Vision 2030 reform plan aims to raise the proportion of residential ownership to 70 percent

RIYADH: A total of 34,891 families benefited from subsidized mortgage loans through the Sakani self-construction program during the first half of this year.

Run by the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs, and Housing and the Real Estate Development Fund (REDF), Sakani offers Saudis access to land and residential housing via financing solutions to help first-time homebuyers.

The Vision 2030 reform plan aims to raise the proportion of residential ownership in the Kingdom to 70 percent.

Sakani provided various residential products and financial solutions for 111,568 families in the first six months of the year, including 87,896 families that have already moved into new homes and its website and app are designed to simplify and speed up the purchasing process for readymade, off-plan, self-construction, and land products.

To qualify for a subsidized loan for self-construction, applicants must be entitled to residential support, own a residential land plot and have a valid building permit, have a fixed income, and must not have previously claimed housing support. Details are available at https://sakani.housing.sa/product/SC.

The scheme also provides an engineering design service with a range of high-quality, competitively priced options in partnership with experienced engineering offices. More than 36 distinctive and modern self-construction designs are available along with an approved contractor service.

The REDF offers more than 43 e-services for citizens as well as a real-estate adviser app and its online team provides around-the-clock support for those seeking subsidized funding.

Beneficiaries can call 199088 or contact the REDF on social media for information on housing and financial solutions, programs, and initiatives.


Saudi aviation authority issues update for citizens’ travel procedures abroad 

Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi aviation authority issues update for citizens’ travel procedures abroad 

  • New procedures will come into effect on Aug. 9

RIYADH: The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has issued a new circular to all airlines, both public and private, operating from the Kingdom’s airports updating the procedures for citizens’ travel outside Saudi Arabia.

The circular stipulates that airlines can carry citizens on international flights, provided that they have received all doses of one of the anti-coronavirus vaccines approved in the Kingdom, with the exception of passengers under the age of 12.

Travelers under the age of 12 are required to present an insurance document approved by the Saudi Central Bank that covers the risks of COVID-19 infection outside the Kingdom.

In addition, citizens who recovered from the virus less than 6 months ago and those who contracted corona more than 6 months ago and received a single dose of one of the approved vaccines in the Kingdom can travel abroad.

GACA said that these procedures will come into effect on Aug. 9.

The GACA continues to apply all preventive measures at the Kingdom’s airports, with the aim of providing an integrated health environment for travelers at Saudi airports.

The procedures also include obliging all concerned authorities and air transport companies operating at the Kingdom’s airports to comply with health safety requirements and preventive measures.