An unfortunate, back-breaking Saudi decision
The Saudi decision to restrict Hajj this year to the Saudi residents will shatter the dreams of hundreds of thousands of Muslims across the world who had plans to perform the religious obligation during the current year.
At the same time, hundreds of people linked to the Hajj and Umrah business have also been badly affected because they will not be able to send their customers to the holy lands till further orders.
Details of how many people will perform Hajj or how will they be selected are expected to be made public on Wednesday.
This situation is back-breaking for the weaker parties, although their well-to-do counterparts will be able to absorb the financial blow for some more time.
"This decision is taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols to protect human beings from the risks associated with this pandemic and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving the lives of human beings," a statement issued by KSA says.
About 200,000 Pakistanis perform Hajj every year, the majority of them through the government scheme.
Those not selected by the draw for the government scheme try to perform the religious obligation through the private sector. However, the packages offered by private operators are far more expensive. Those with deeper pockets have to pay a couple of millions of rupees per head for extra facilities and comforts.
Under the government scheme, a pilgrim has to pay about Rs half a million for a 4o-day stay in Saudi Arabia.
Every year the Hajj becomes more expensive because of inflation. The cancellation of Hajj will mean a loss of billions for the oil-rich Saudi kingdom. It has already suffered huge financial losses because of the suspension of Umrah, which goes on throughout the year except for the months of Hajj.
However, the kingdom can afford the setback without any difficulty for a long time. It is said that over 800 Hajj and Umrah operators of Pakistan will have to face financial difficulties because of the Saudi decision.
They have already been out of business for the past several months as the Saudi government had stopped even Umrah pilgrimage because of the pandemic. The deadly contagion has killed almost half a million people across the world and the tally is growing with every passing day. There are about nine million others who have been infected.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly warned that July would be a deadlier month compared to the previous months.
Indonesia and Malaysia had recently cancelled the Hajj plans this year because of the pandemic. It may be pointed out that many mosques in Pakistan give a deserted look these days because many people prefer to offer prayers at home because of the corona threat. The policy of social distancing is another factor that has brought down the number of namazis.
The cancellation of Hajj will also mean a colossal loss to the PIA. All passengers from and to Pakistan are carried by PIA and Saudia, the Saudi Arabian airline.