ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Raja Muhammad Sultan was all set to fulfill his lifelong dream of going to Makkah for Hajj when Saudi Arabia announced it would bar arrivals from abroad this year due to the coronavirus, allowing only a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents to make the pilgrimage with social distancing measures enforced.
Some 2.5 million Muslims each year visit the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Madinah for the week-long pilgrimage, due to start on July 28. A once-in-a-lifetime duty for able-bodied Muslims who can afford the cost, it is usually extremely crowded.
Like many Muslims around the world, 79-year-old Sultan, a farmer, laments the restriction to domestic pilgrims this year to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“I bought Ihram clothes, prayer beads and some other essential items to perform the Hajj, but this coronavirus shattered my lifetime dream,” he told Arab News from his home in Chakwal in Punjab province.
The moment is even sadder for Sultan because he and his wife waited 10 years to be selected for the pilgrimage and she passed away before they could make the journey together.
“My wife passed away last year with her unfulfilled wish,” he said. “I may not survive either.”
Sultan lives with his three sons and eight grandchildren. His fourth son works in Riyadh and the pilgrimage was also a chance to reunite after years of separation.
“My son promised to take me around all the holy places in Makkah and Madinah, but who knows the planning of our creator. He is the best planner,” the farmer said.
Sultan says he will now use the funds deposited for the pilgrimage on community welfare: “I am seeking Allah’s forgiveness and hopefully I’ll have a chance in my lifetime to go for Hajj.”
Rizwanullah Khan, too, will miss Hajj this year, a pilgrimage he had planned with his wife, daughter and son-in-law.
“I lost my senses the day I heard this news,” the 85-year-old man from Lahore said. “I don’t know if I will be able to purify myself and survive until next year, I don’t know.”
“All our preparations were complete. We had arranged Ihram, recited duas and took Hajj training,” said Khan’s son-in-law, Muhammad Akbar.
“Perhaps our prayers were not sincere enough to be answered. It is a great spiritual loss in our lives, great sadness,” he said, adding: “The cancelation is very depressing, but I think it was the right decision, it will save millions of lives.”