Malaysia on Thursday joined Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries in pulling out from sending Hajj pilgrims to Mecca this year, as officials cited health concerns around the coronavirus, which has infected more than 100,000 people in Saudi Arabia.
Some 31,600 Malaysian Muslims were registered to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage – one of the main obligations of people who practice Islam – but they will have to postpone their plans to go on the religious journey of a lifetime, the government announced.
Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, the minister at the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religious affairs, said the government made the decision after consulting the Malaysian Ministry of Health and the Tabung Haji – the board that administers funds for Malaysian Hajj pilgrims and matters related to pilgrimages to Islam’s holiest sites.
“Based on the briefing by the Health Ministry and Tabung Haji along with discussions among the members of the special taskforce for Islamic affairs that met on June 9, 2020, the pilgrimage rites for all Malaysians for the Hajj season of the year 1441AH [Al-Habib] is postponed,” Al-Bakri said in a statement, referring to the Islamic calendar.
“Until now there is no vaccine to contain the virus outbreak, which has claimed many lives across the world. The Hajj pilgrimage is the fifth pillar of Islam and closely related to istito’ah, which is the ability to perform Hajj [in] health [and] safety,” he said. “[W]ithout the ability or the capability of the earlier mentioned, the conditions under istito’ah is not met, hence it is not compulsory for us to perform Hajj. I would like to express in all sincerity that this is a heavy decision for me to announce.”
The minister said he had met with the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Malaysia on Wednesday to formally deliver Malaysia’s letter of intent to the kingdom’s Hajj Minister, Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Banten. Al-Bakri said he had also presented the matter to the Malaysian king – the country’s highest authority on Islamic affairs – for his consent.
Given priority for next year
In a separate statement, Nik Mohd Hasyudeen Yusoff, the managing director of the Tabung Haji, said all pilgrims registered for the 2020 season would be given priority to travel for next year’s season.
“Due to this postponement, all would-be pilgrims allocated to perform the Hajj for the 2020 season will be given priority to perform the rites in the year 2021. Those whose turn is for 2021 will also get a chance to go pending availability in the yearly quota,” he said.
The pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia takes place annually for 10 days on the 12th and last month of the Islamic lunar calenda, and is compulsory for all Muslims who are physically and financially able to perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime.
To control the influx of people participating in any given year, the Saudi government issues quotas for every country at 0.1 percent of each country’s total population.
This year’s Hajj is to run from late July until early August, but Saudi Arabia has not yet reopened the Grand Mosque in Mecca – one of the main destinations for Muslims pilgrims who converge on the holy city from around the world – because the kingdom is contending with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, Riyadh announced it was suspending the Umrah – also known as the minor pilgrimage to Mecca – over concerns around the viral outbreak.
Now, Saudi Arabia may even lower the number of pilgrims who can participate to prevent future outbreaks, according to news reports from the kingdom this week.
On June 2, Indonesia announced it was cancelling plans to send 200,000 pilgrims on Hajj, citing uncertainty about whether Saudi authorities would allow them to enter the kingdom amid the ongoing outbreak.
Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and Cambodia also announced that they are not sending pilgrims on Hajj this year.
Zamzam Jaafar, 67, a Malaysian Muslim who was among those who had registered to undertake the pilgrimage this year with his brother, said that he accepted the government’s decision.
“I leave it to God, and am at peace. I look forward to go to Mecca next year,” the retired nuclear physicist told BenarNews.