Bangladesh all but decides to skip Hajj this year

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The government has all but decided not to send pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, multiple sources familiar with the matter told Dhaka Tribune.

But, the Ministry of Religious Affairs is not making a formal declaration before a decision is made by the Saudi Arabian government considering the sensitivity of the issue among religious Muslims of the country, they said.

This year’s Hajj, mandatory for every financially and physically capable Muslim once in life, will begin in the evening of July 28 and end in the evening of August 2, subject to the appearance of the moon. More than two million people, including 127,000 from Bangladesh, participated in last year’s Hajj, the largest annual congregation of the world.

“Look, it is obvious that people cannot be sent to Hajj this year because both Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia are both badly affected by the coronavirus. In terms of the number of infections, both the countries are among the worst top 20,” a source told this correspondent.

“Under such circumstances, it has been all but decided by the government that Bangladeshis are not going to attend this year’s Hajj,” he said

“Infections are on the rise in both countries and we have very little time,” said another source, adding, “The question does not arise to send thousands of people, majority of who are elderly with different health issues, to a country that is also going through a pandemic.”

“Considering the sensitivity of the religious Muslims of the country, the government is not announcing to skip the Hajj. It is waiting for the decision of the government of Saudi Arabia. If Saudi Arabia decides to cancel the Hajj or hold it in a symbolic manner, which is most likely to happen, the government will say it is the decision of the host country and we have nothing to do,” he said.

“Even if Saudi Arabia decides to allow a portion of registered people, it will not be possible to send them to Saudi Arabia due to many unsolvable problems. It is safe to say that Bangladesh is done with this year’s Hajj. A formal announcement will be made after the decision of the Saudi government which is expected anytime soon,” said a third source.

As contacted, ABM Amin Ullah Nuri, additional secretary (Hajj) of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said that the government is aware of the sense of uncertainty among the people intending to perform Hajj and that an announcement will be made as soon as Saudi Arabia makes a decision.

“We are in constant touch with the Saudi authorities. We will decide based on their decision,” he said.

When asked if Saudi Arabia goes ahead with the Hajj or allows some Bangladeshis, Nuri said, “In that case, we will make a decision involving all related organizations, including the top office of the country.”

Replying to a question, he said, “We know how eager our people are to make the holy trip. Many are saying that they must go this year if they do not survive next year due to the ongoing pandemic. Many are also saying that it is good to die in the holy land.”

“Our decision will be based on the ground reality and welfare of our people. We know many will be heartbroken if they cannot go,” he added.

To a question, the additional secretary said that Bangladesh could send 137,000 pilgrims, an increase of 10,000 from last year, and about 68,000 people have registered both on government and private arrangements.

The number of Bangladeshi pilgrims in 2018 and 2017 was 127,000, he said.

When asked if people cannot go this year, will their deposited money be returned or they will be offered to perform the Hajj next year, Nuri said, “It will be decided later as many factors are involved, including the issue of airfare that is likely to go up next year.”