By Mustapha Adamu
Reactions have poured in by Hajj Stakeholders in Nigerian, following the cancellation of Hajj 2021 for over 164 Hajj participating countries by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the second year in a row that Saudi authorities are cancelling the Hajj exercise for foreign countries, effectively limiting the number of Pilgrims to citizens and resident of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia only.
HAJJ REPORTERS observed that most of the stakeholders have expressed their disappointment, but said the decision might be in the best interests of Muslims and that it is what Almighty Allah Has decreed.
A stakeholder, Mohammed Babangida Umar Chairman, Hujjaj Rights said that although Hajj is universal, its preparation is largely within the domestic laws of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) .
According to him, if the authorities of the KSA do not consider it safe for international pilgrims to enter the country, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
He noted that a similar situation is ongoing at the proposed Tokyo Olympics, saying “I therefore understand and emphasize with all intending pilgrims and affected stakeholders.”
Barr Umar suggested that the way forward is to engage intending pilgrims and stakeholders to seek their understanding.
“We should also begin to accept the reality of the new normal including the fact that era of instant Hajj without planning or waiting for some years ahead may soon be over. I will implore that commission to find a way to compensate the intending pilgrims for the time value of their money lost over the period,” he said.
Dr Ibrahim Kana, the immediate past NAHCON Head of Medical team and an expert in Hajj Medical services said “it could have been a careless act on the part of Saudi Health authority if they allowed people from areas where a new variant of the virus has been reported”.
Dr Kana praised Saudi Arabia for the decision because Covid 19 has proved to a dangerous, evasive and lethal with great potential for mutation.
“For me as a Public Health practitioner, I think Saudi took a good decision on behalf of the entire world. Covid-19 virus has proved to be a dangerous, evasive and lethal with great potential for mutation. We have continued to see new variants of the virus, especially in Asia. Therefore allowing people from any of those countries will be careless on the part of Saudi Health authorities.
“The reality is that even if there’s one chance of transmitting the virus during Hajj, we should remember that countries like Nigeria have non Muslims and may therefore not feel comfortable with returning pilgrims from Saudi Arabia.
Dr Kana urges intending pilgrims to accept the situation as being from Allah (SWT) but urge hajj administrators to commence preparation for Hajj 2022 in earnest.
Another stakeholder, Qasim Alabi who is Managing Director of Habdat XPress Travels said as a Hajj stakeholder, the decision did not come as a surprise to him because he has been preparing for the worst.
Alabi, who doubles as Vice-President, AHUON, Lagos Zone noted that the delay from the side of Saudi ministry of Hajj to make pronouncement on Hajj is a pointer to the fact that the holy exercise might not involve foreign pilgrims.
“The ministry of health had earlier recommended 60,000 pilgrims but there was ambiguity as regards whether they will allow pilgrims from outside Saudi to partake.
“Even if Saudi has allowed us to come, how will the world share 60,000 quota. The number is not enough for Nigeria alone not to talk of the whole world.
Many tour operators have actually hinted their pilgrims that Hajj may not hold this year. Many of us were not therefore caught unaware,” Alabi said.
Suggesting the way forward, Alabi advised that there is need to start preparation for Hajj 2022, noting that though there is backlog already, the implication is that Hajj will be based on first come first serve basis.
“There is no doubt about the fact that Hajj may be more expensive in view of the current rate of exchange and other associated costs. The pilgrims should therefore be ready to pay more. The pilgrims should also take what has happened in good fate, be patient and have trust in Allah.
“Year 2022 is round the corner and we are highly optimistic that things would have been better then and Saudi will be willing to open the door to the world for Hajj. We must also warn the pilgrims to be careful of fraudulent agents who are always looking for opportunity to defraud people.
“Members of the public have options to go with any licensed tour operator but we will strongly advise that they do their findings before they make any commitment. We will also like to advise that the intending pilgrims have two options.
“The first option is ask for refund of their money while the second option is to roll over their money against next year,” he suggested.
In his reaction, Abdulfattah Abdulmajeed, former President of Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators, said that he saw the cancellation coming, noting that “not until 1st Dhul Qada 1442AH, 12-06-2024, there was no official announcement about the Hajj. Information that filtered in about 60,000 pilgrims came from Ministry of Health.
Abdulmojeed who is the Chairman of Al Qibla International Service said that “Official announcements about hajj should have come from the Ministry of Hajj but that was not the case.
“The cancellation though devastating, was based on sound judgement whether based on religious injunctions or prevention of the ravaging Covid19 pandemic. As Muslims, we believe that the Will of Allah must prevail.
“The way forward, the pilgrims that can afford it, should retain their Hajj deposit for Hajj 2022, and be considered as a first priority for the Hajj. Moreover if it is in the Hajj savings scheme, it will earn some returns, but if they cannot, they should get refunds for their Hajj deposit.
“The Government should consider extending Covid19 palliative to those in the Hajj industry especially the Hajj Tour Operators as it has done in other sectors of the Nigerian Economy.
“Plan for Hajj 2022 should commence in earnest,” he advised.
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