Indonesia’s government on Thursday announced it has canceled plans for its citizens to participate in the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the second year in a row, citing concerns over the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
“Due to the pandemic and for the safety of the pilgrims, the government has decided that this year it won’t allow Indonesian pilgrims to go again,” Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas said in a statement issued June 3.
The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, required of all Muslims once in their lifetime — health and finances permitting — according to tenets of Islam. It is tentatively scheduled to start this year on July 17.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, home to an estimated 229 million Muslims. The Cabinet Secretariat of Indonesia acknowledged on Thursday that the Hajj pilgrimage is “a once-in-a-lifetime event” for Muslims while also revealing that the average wait time for Indonesians to participate in the Hajj is “20 years due to a quota system.”
“It’s not just Indonesia … no countries have received quotas [for Hajj pilgrims this year], because the memorandum of understanding [with Saudi Arabia] has not been signed,” Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumassaid said in further remarks on June 4. Indonesian pilgrims who have already paid hajj fees will be selected as pilgrims next year, he added.
Saudi Arabia held a scaled-down Hajj last year due to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. The Kingdom barred foreign Muslims from traveling to Mecca for the pilgrimage in 2020, allowing just 1,000 pilgrims who already resided within Saudi Arabia to participate in the event.
“Before the pandemic … some 2.5 million pilgrims used to visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long haj, and the lesser, year-round umrah pilgrimage, which altogether earned the kingdom about US$12 billion a year [sic],” Reuters noted on June 3, citing official Saudi government data.
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said in March it will require pilgrims participating in this year’s Hajj to be immunized against the Chinese coronavirus before attending.
“The COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the Hajj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come),” the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on March 1, citing a circular signed by Saudi Arabia’s health minister.
“In the same circular, Saudi Minister of Health Dr. Tawfiq al-Rabiah said the government must be prepared to ‘secure the manpower required to operate the health facilities in Mecca and Medina,'” Al Jazeera noted of the report.
“These facilities will be stationed at entry points for pilgrims, he [al-Rabiah] said, in addition to a formation of a vaccination committee for pilgrims within Saudi Arabia,” according to the Qatari news agency.