With ban on international pilgrims, Maldives will not partake in Hajj this year

Muslim pilgrims circle around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

The Maldivian Islamic Ministry, on Tuesday, announced Maldivian nationals will not partake in the annual Hajj pilgrimage this year, following the decision of the Saudi Arabian government to limit pilgrims to only those who reside in the country due to concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus.

Islamic Ministry, in a statement, said that the Saudi Embassy informed the Islamic Ministry on Tuesday that the Saudi Hajj Ministry has made the decision to allow only a limited number of people selected from among Saudi nationals and foreign nationals who already reside in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year.

The Saudi Embassy told the Islamic Ministry the decision was made to ensure the health and safety of pilgrims while ensuring the continuity of Hajj – one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith.

“We hereby inform you that with this decision of the Saudi Arabian government, Maldivian nationals cannot travel to perform the Hajj pilgrimage of the year 1441,” announced Islamic Ministry in its statement.

The Islamic Ministry said that it had been engaged in preparations to send Maldivian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj up until the very last moment, before the Saudi Arabian government announced its decision to limit pilgrims.

The Saudi government has announced that no one over the age of 65 will be allowed to perform Hajj and that all pilgrims and those serving pilgrims this year will be quarantined both before and after the pilgrimage.

The annual Hajj pilgrimage draws some 2.5 million people from inside Saudi Arabia and across the world.

The Saudi Hajj Minister Muhammad Benten that the number of pilgrims are expected to be in the thousands at most.

“The number, God willing, may be in the thousands. We are in the process of reviewing so it could be 1,000 or less, or a little more,” Benten said in a virtual press conference.

Saudi Arabia’s borders have been shut to foreigners since late February. The Saudi government suspended the Umrah pilgrimage in March, imposed a nearly three-month-long 24-hour curfew in Mecca, shuttered mosques during the holy month of Ramadan and restricted businesses.

Saudi Arabia continues to have one of the highest rates of infection in the Middle East, with more than 161,000 confirmed cases so far, including 1,307 deaths.