The COVID-19 pandemic has forced pilgrims to delay their haj and umrah (minor haj) for months, leaving millions in limbo. In response, the Association of Indonesian Haj and Umrah Organizers (Amphuri) for the Northern Part of Sumatra (Sumbagut) has requested that the government prioritize prospective umrah pilgrims, particularly those who are elderly, in its upcoming COVID-19 vaccination program.
Amphuri Sumbagut head Mitha Tanjung said on Wednesday that the vaccination program would help umrah pilgrims who had postponed their trips for nine months, giving them hope and peace of mind during their trip to the Holy Land.
Mitha went on to say that most umrah tour operators were currently waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine and further information on how it would be distributed. She added, as quoted by antaranews.com, that millions of people wanted to go on umrah. “If the government could prioritize umrah pilgrims, [the umrah tour operator’s] burden will be greatly reduced,” she said. Saudi Arabia announced the reopening of Mecca starting on Nov. 1 for Muslims who wished to go on umrah.
The kingdom started relaxing restrictions after closing its border to international pilgrims in March following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the reopening, the Religious Affairs Ministry established new criteria for Indonesians intending to go on umrah, deciding that only pilgrims between 18 and 50 years old were eligible for the pilgrimage, in line with Saudi Arabia’s latest health policy. The ministry shared in October that nearly 60,000 pilgrims had received their umrah registration number but could not travel because of the temporary halt on pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia.
Finally, on Nov. 1, hundreds of Indonesian pilgrims landed in Saudi Arabia, marking the first batch of Indonesians arriving for umrah following months of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The group was among the earliest to arrive at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah after the Islamic kingdom started easing restrictions. Unlike the haj, for which there are specific dates based on the Islamic lunar calendar, the umrah can be done at any time of the year. Last year, 19 million Muslims traveled to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina for haj and umrah.
Indonesia sent the second-largest number of umrah pilgrims last year with 443,879 arrivals, according to the Saudi Haj and Umrah Ministry. Haj and umrah tour operators in the country can send around 1,500 pilgrims for umrah trips every day, with the most affordable package costing around Rp 20 million (US$1,400) per person. (jes)
By Waleed Basyouni (Ph.D) Vice-President AlMaghrib Institute In the Hajj of…