On June 12, days before many South Africans were to depart for Hajj, it was announced that it was cancelled. The South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) said after consultations with the South African department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco), a final decision was made.
Sahuc and Dirco met on June 11 to discuss the possibility of pilgrims going for Hajj. According to a statement from Sahuc, Dirco minister Naledi Pandor said international travel would only be allowed for the repatriation of citizens. Due to the closure of the borders and current travels bans, the decision was taken that South Africans will not be allowed to make the pilgrimage.
One of the travel agencies responsible for taking pilgrims, Khidmatul Awaam released a statement saying “Blessed Hujjaj, it is with a heavy heart and great sadness, that we make this announcement (of cancellation).” The agency said that hopefully the pandemic would be alleviated to allow pilgrims to make the pilgrimage in 2021.
The Hajj is the annual pilgrimage undertaken by Muslims around the world to Saudi Arabia. Muslims observe a number of rituals such as begging for forgiveness from God, symbolically stoning the devil, praying and increasing their individual spirituality. All of the rituals carried out during the five days have their origins with Prophet Abraham and his firm faith in God.
Subject to the lunar calendar, this year the pilgrimage was due to take place from July 30 to August 3. With COVID-19 pandemic affecting countries around the world, many countries adopted measures to curb the virus. These included stopping international travel and lockdowns. In South Africa, international travel was stopped just weeks after the initial cases were reported. International travel is likely to only resume after the complete end of the lockdown.
Speaking to The Daily Vox, teacher Zainab Moosa, due to go for the pilgrimage said she was sad and disappointed but not surprised. “Last year we deferred because of financial problems and this year we were ready to go. We were just about to finalise airfares when the lockdown was announced. However we were prepared for the Hajj to be canceled as more lockdowns were instituted,” said Moosa.
South Africa is not the first country to cancel the Hajj. Earlier the month, Indonesia cancelled the country’s Hajj plans due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. This meant the removal of the largest group of pilgrims at the annual gathering. Malaysia also decided to bar its citizens from going for Hajj on June 12.
The Saudi government has as yet not given final confirmation around the Hajj. In March, the minister of Hajj and Umrah asked “Muslims to wait until there is more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic before planning to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage.”
Around two million people go to Makkah and Medina for the pilgrimage which is a significant source of income for Saudi Arabia. While the Hajj pilgrimage has been cancelled before in history, this is the first time since the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.