About 34,000 Moroccans were expecting to participate in the 2020 Hajj pilgrimage.
Rabat – Saudi Arabia has announced it will organize a “very limited” Hajj this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing only people already living in the country, from all nationalities, to take part in the pilgrimage.
“It was decided to hold the pilgrimage this year with very limited numbers … with different nationalities in the kingdom,” the Saudi Press Agency announced on Monday, June 22, citing the Ministry of Hajj.
The Hajj pilgrimage, scheduled to begin in late July, is one of the five pillars of Islam. The ritual is mandatory for all Muslims who have both the financial and physical ability to perform it.
The long-awaited decision comes as Saudi Arabia continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 22, the country has recorded more than 161,000 cases of the coronavirus, including over 54,000 active cases and 1,300 deaths.
In 2019, the Hajj season attracted nearly 2.5 million pilgrims from across the world. The Saudi decision to restrict the numbers in 2020 aims to prevent a major COVID-19 outbreak.
The decision affects 34,000 Moroccans, selected by Morocco’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs to perform the Hajj ritual. The pilgrimage candidates have already made payments to the ministry and to private travel agencies for their trip, accommodation, and catering.
On June 15, Minister of Islamic Affairs Ahmed Taoufik said Morocco will not announce its decision regarding Hajj until Saudi authorities officially communicate their final judgment on the issue.
After Saudi Arabia’s announcement, it remains to be seen how the Ministry of Islamic Affairs will manage the situation of Moroccan candidates regarding reimbursement.
The ministry will also have to make a decision about the 2021 Hajj season, regarding the eligibility of the 34,000 previously-selected Moroccans to perform the ritual next year, and whether they will be prioritized or have to reapply and go through the regular selection process.