Indonesia cancels Hajj for its pilgrims over coronavirus fears

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has cancelled plans to attend the Hajj pilgrimage this year because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 220,000 people from Indonesia were set to take part in this year’s Hajj, and Indonesia always gets the largest foreign contingent due to its population size.

But the global pandemic has plunged the pilgrimage into doubt, with Saudi authorities yet to announce a final decision on whether it will go ahead with the end-of-July ritual.

“The government has decided to cancel the Hajj 2020 as the Saudi Arabian authorities failed to provide certainty,” Fachrul Razi, Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, said during a news conference in the capital, Jakarta.

“This was a very bitter and difficult decision. But we have a responsibility to protect our pilgrims and Hajj workers.”

Jakarta had considered allowing half the usual number of pilgrims to travel in order to limit the risk, but instead opted to keep them all at home, he added.

National Haj and Umrah Commission chairman Mustolih Siradj said he appreciated Fachrul’s decision, noting that the ministry had made the call without having to wait for an official announcement from Saudi Arabia.

“This is a strong signal that we, as the largest Muslim population in the world, can stand for our people and make decisions without having to rely on other countries,” he said.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to Makkah and Medinah for the pilgrimage, which is also a significant source of income for the Kingdom but risks becoming a major source of contagion.

The quota for Indonesian pilgrims this year was 221,000, with more than 90 percent already registered to go, according to the religious affairs ministry website.

City-state Singapore also announced last month that its citizens would not perform the Hajj this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Hajj has been cancelled because of war and past epidemics throughout history, but not since the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

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