Saudi Arabia is likely to cut back or call off this year’s Hajj pilgrimage for the first time in history as cases of coronavirus sprout.
Muslim countries are urging Riyadh to announce its long-overdue Hajj 2020 decision.
Last year more than 2.5 million pilgrims performed the Hajj. But this year, the decision was not announced.
A South Asian official in contact with Saudi Hajj authorities told AFP, “It’s a toss-up between holding a nominal Hajj and scrapping it entirely,”
A Saudi official told AFP: “The decision will soon be made and announced.”
This month Indonesia withdrew from pilgrimage after pressing for clarification on Riyadh. Malaysia, Senegal and Singapore also pulled out of the pilgrimage.
Several other Muslim countries are awaiting the official announcement, including Egypt , Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon and Bulgaria.
Faith leaders in other countries like France have insisted that the Muslims “postpone” their plans for pilgrimages.
“Saudi Arabia is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,” Umar Karim, a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told AFP.
“The delay in announcing its decision shows it understands the political consequences of canceling the hajj or reducing its scale.”
Saudi officials have said Saudi Arabia is “buying time” as it walks with caution.
He said, “At the last minute if Saudi says ‘we are ready to do a full Hajj’, (logistically) many countries will not be in a position”
“The Hajj is the most important spiritual journey in the life of any Muslim, but if Saudi Arabia proceeds in this scenario it will not only exert pressure on its own health system,” said Yasmine Farouk from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“It could also be widely held responsible for fanning the pandemic.”