Riyadh limits to Hajj to stem the pandemic

The major pilgrimage to the holy places of Islam scheduled from July 28 to August 2. Every year at least 2.5 million faithful participate in the event. Religious tourism brings $ 12 billion to state coffers. Indonesia and Singapore renounce participation.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - To stem the spread of Covid-19 and prevent new outbreaks, Saudi authorities could drastically reduce the number of pilgrims who will participate in the Hajj, the major pilgrimage to Mecca, scheduled from July 28 to August 2.

Meanwhile, Singapore, after Indonesia, has announced that it will renounce participation in the event - among the most important for the Muslim faith - to avoid infections by returning faithful.

Every year at least 2.5 million faithful visit the sacred places of Islam in Mecca and Medina during the seven days of the pilgrimage. For the Saudi authorities, this is not just a religious event, but a huge economic one; in fact, it is estimated that at least 12 billion dollars linked to religious tourism (Hajj and Umra, the minor pilgrimage) enter the coffers of the Wahhabite kingdom every year.

Last March, during the early stages of the pandemic, Riyadh asked to suspend the organization of travel to sacred places. According to some institutional sources, the Saudi authorities are thinking of granting the green light "to a symbolic number" of faithful, categorically prohibiting the elderly and introducing even more stringent measures at the health level.

Another hypothesis under consideration is to grant 20% of the total quota of each country. Still others are pushing for a complete cancellation of the Hajj, but this would result in a severe blow to the nation's coffers, which must already face the collapse of oil revenues due to the pandemic and clashes with Moscow on production.

Last year, 2.6 million pilgrims registered for Hajj and about 19 million for Umra.

Hajj is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and every good Muslim should do it at least once in his life.  Saudi Arabia has often politically exploited permission to reach Mecca; for years the Syrians have been forbidden to travel to the Muslim holy city.

The crisis between Riyadh (Sunni) and Tehran (Shiite), still in progress between the two great regional powers, in 2016 effectively blocked the journeys of Iranian citizens to the kingdom.  In the past, Riyadh's leadership was targeted by some imams who claimed the Saudi government used money from religious tourism to finance Islamic terrorism.

To date, over 105 thousand cases of new coronavirus have been recorded in Saudi Arabia with 746 confirmed victims.