Hajj pilgrims can withdraw registration fees

Wednesday, 24 Jun, 2020

The pilgrimage, which usually draws millions, will be open to a small number of people who must already be in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom's authorities said on Monday.

People should not be anxious about their registration fees as they are safe in a blocked account in a bank designated by the government; those who are already registered will be given priority next year, he informed.

Usually, more than two million people perform the annual pilgrimage, including many travelling from overseas.

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"Everyone knows the risks of this virus and knows that all countries are closed now and until Hajj time, and therefore there will be risks to transfer pilgrims across countries", he said, adding that pilgrim safety was a priority for the kingdom.

The hajj is one of Islam's most important religious requirements, as well as a major source of revenue for Saudi Arabia.

The Religious Affairs Ministry on Tuesday announced that it would return the money deposited by the successful applicants for the government's Hajj scheme this year.

The kingdom has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infections in the Middle East, with more than 161,000 total confirmed cases and 1,307 deaths.

The country also suspended all visits to Mecca and Medina for the umrah pilgrimage, which can be performed year-round.

Saudi Arabia has never cancelled the Hajj in the almost 90 years since the nation's establishment.

The area around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, was closed and disinfected in March.

Earlier this month, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia barred their citizens from travelling to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, citing fears of the coronavirus.

Mohamad Azmi Abdul Hamid, from charity the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organizations, told AFP that said Muslim nations should have been allowed to take a "collective decision", rather then it being left to Riyadh.

"It's high time (the holy cities of Makkah and Madina) are managed by an worldwide board represented by Muslim countries", he told AFP.

The minister, however, asserted that those who had already paid for their pilgrimage could embark on the haj in 2021.

"I'm still hoping to go on Hajj next year, and pray that I'll stay healthy until then", said Yahya in Indonesia.