The annual Hajj pilgrimage sees hundreds of thousands of Muslims across the world travelling to the holy city of Makkah to perform their religious duty. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are serious concerns whether the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) will postpone this year’s Hajj. A final decision on the matter is yet to come. However, Indonesia has now announced that it will not be sending its citizens to Makkah this year due to coronavirus fears. It would be prudent for the government of Pakistan to begin consultations and announce its policy on the matter well before the final days of July when the Hajj is due to take place.
A case can be made for postponement because, already stretched to capacity, it would be quite a momentous challenge for the Pakistani state to monitor and screen each person visiting and returning from KSA. In 2019, a total of 2.5 million Muslims participated; 200,000 were from Pakistan. Currently, there are over 76,000 cases of coronavirus in the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan has already stated that he expects the numbers to rise further in the coming months. The health system is severely overburdened with no respite in sight. Therefore, the government should do all it can to minimise the risk.
The Hajj policy for 2020 should be devised with these considerations in mind. If the KSA decides to host pilgrims this year, there are chances that it will reduce the quota for each country. If the government of Pakistan decides to go ahead with it, it should only send the number of people that it can practically monitor and screen. These are difficult decisions for any government to make. People wait years for the opportunity to perform Hajj. They save and prepare with great anticipation and zeal. It would be helpful if the government is able to bring religious leaders on board to secure support for its policy. At this time, public health concerns should take precedence over everything else.