By Ibrahim Muhammed
Though, Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is yet to make announcement about Hajj 2021 nor has the Ministry of Hajj pen down Memorandum of Understanding with Hajj participating countries; but the policy formulations and pronouncements made by ministries officials and agencies that works with Hajj and Umrah related matters has signify that indeed, Hajj 2021 will takes place, God’s willing.
The latest being the statement made by Saudi Arabia Minister of Health on Monday. Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister, Tawfig Al-Rabiah, announced on March 1 that COVID-19 vaccination will be a major requirement for performing Hajj this year.
The Saudi minister Al-Rabiah ordered the formation of a COVID-19 vaccination committee for hajj pilgrims, stressing that only those vaccinated against the corona virus will be allowed to participate in the 2021 hajj.
This is the most authoritative and strongest statements made so far as regards the conduct of Hajj 2021 by any Saudi Arabia high profile officials.
Tawfig Al-Rabiah also called for early preparation to secure the manpower required to operate health facilities in Makkah, Madinah and the ports of entry for pilgrims for the Hajj 2021.
Though, Al-Rabiah did not specify the number of pilgrims that Saudi Arabia will receive this year, nor did he mention whether the number will be limited as it was in the 2020 Hajj .
Will this year Hajj quota remain as the status quo; will it be reduced to say, 50, 30 or even 20 percent of each country allocations?
The waiting game continues.
It is noteworthy that “the Ministry of Health had on Sunday emphasized that “there are no recommendations either for medical isolation after receiving coronavirus vaccine or for a laboratory test before receiving vaccine shots”.
The intent and purpose of this statement may be linked with plans to allow pilgrims who had been vaccinated to perform his/her Umrah or Hajj without having to observe the 3 days quarantine currently being observed by Umrah Pilgrims.
Another possible reason is to allow a blanket vaccination of all Hajj pilgrims irrespective of whether they are positive or negative after undergoing Covid 19 test on arrival in Saudi Arabia.
Section Hajj 2021, sub-section first requirements: Pilgrims must undergo Covid 19 test and pilgrims must be vaccinated against Covid 19.
Let’s move further.
Also recently, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Benten said “there are concerted efforts of government and private agencies in Saudi Arabia to cope well with the pandemic, and has “mobilized all its energies and capabilities to serve Islam, Muslims and all those who want to come to the Kingdom.”
The Minister further said, “we were able to expect not to see the random crowding that used to happen in previous years in the holy sites. This year, there will be specific standards set for services to pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah, whether they are performing Umrah or Hajj rituals”.
For the sake of emphasis, He said: “this year, (Hajj 2021), there will be specific standards set for services to pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah, whether they are performing Umrah or Hajj rituals”
Deductively, a new set of regulations guiding the contracting and usage of pilgrims’ accomodation, bus services, conducts of Hadaya, movement within and staying in Mashair areas may be cooking.
Remember that hajj participating countries are yet to sign memorandum of understanding that could have provides compass on those services mention above. More analysis on this later.
The Minister was speaking during a seminar about the successful efforts of the Kingdom to manage the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah throughout the pandemic. The session was part of the 20th Scientific Forum for Hajj, Umrah, and Visit Research.
Another ‘green light’ is the establishment of an emergency first aid service center named “Haram Emergency Center 1” inside the Grand Mosque in Makkah to provide emergency health services to all visitors and pilgrims recently. The center is equipped with modern medical equipments to deal with all cases and to ensure the safety and health of pilgrims.
The emergency health services mention here implies possible large numbers of pilgrims being expected during hajj.
It is noteworthy that prior to Hajj 2020, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia suspended both Hajj and Umrah local and international pilgrims and even closed the two Holly Mosques for local worshippers.
Hajj 2020 was extraordinary; participants were limited to Saudi Arabia alone and number of pilgrims was limited to around 10,000, compared to around 700,00 locals pilgrims that performed Hajj in 2019.
Fast forward to pre Hajj 2021, the temporary suspension of both local and international Umrah pilgrims has been lifted and the two Holly Mosques are now receiving pilgrims. Hajj 2021 is loading.
Will Nigeria participate in Hajj 2021?
First, the good news is that more than 300 Nigerians has so far performed Umrah despite the application of Covid 19 protocols by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. By allowing Nigeria Umrah pilgrims to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shows that Nigeria Pilgrims will be allowed to participate in Hajj 2021.
The entry and exit of Nigeria Umrah pilgrims without a recorded cases of Covid 19 within the Hajj rites sites is a good development for Nigeria
Remember that last week. Pakistan Minister for Religious Affairs, Noor-UL-Haq Qadri said he is aware that “Saudi government is closely monitoring the coronavirus situation and collecting data from all countries.
For that reason, if Covid 19 comes to shove and Saudi Arabia decides to use it as a yard stick for participation in hajj 2021, then the arithmetic will be in favour of Nigeria.
Currently, Nigeria infection rate is lower compares to other top 5 hajj participating countries.
Pakistan with an estimated population of 225,199,937 people has 583,000 Covid 19 cases with 547,000 people recovers and 12, 938 deaths.
Bangladesh has a population of about 166 million people. The country has 547, 000 recorded cases with 489,000 recovery and 8, 423 deaths.
Then, enter Iran. Iran with an estimated population of about 84 million people recorded 1.64 million Covid 19 cases with 1.4 million recovery and 60,181 deaths.
Egypt with a population of about 104 million People has a database of 184, 000 cases with 142,000 recovery and 10, 778 deaths.
Indonesia with a population of 273,523,615 people has 1.34 million Covid 19 cases with 1.15 million recoveries and 36, 235 deaths.
However, Nigeria with estimated populations of 206 million people only recorded 156,000 Covid 19 cases with 134,000 recoveries and 1, 915 deaths.
Nigeria has the least inefction and death rate among top Hajj countries.
More importantly is that over 75 percent of Nigeria intending pilgrims come from rural areas while Covid 19 infection database is derived from urban populations. 60 – 70 percent of that 75 percent has little no or contacts with the inner city. Areas where the largest numbers of registered pilgrims resides has the lowest infection rates in Nigeria. Jigawa, Gombe, Kebbi, Sokoto, Kano, Kwara, Maiduguri, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Yobe, Zamfara and Katsina.
Given the above, Nigeria should be among first class country if Covid 19 infection rate is used as yard stick for participation in Hajj 2021.
The above arithmetic were accompanied more importantly, by the appointment and resumption of the new Saudi Arabia Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency Faisa EL Ibarheem AL Ghamdi is also a pointer that the Kingdoms is making preparations to welcome Nigeria pilgrims in Hajj 2021.
The new ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Nigeria, His Excellency Faisa EL Ibarheem AL Ghamdi officially presented his letter of credence to President Muhammadu Buhari on 28th January 2021.
His predecessor, Late Ambassador Adnan Bostaji died on 4TH February 2020 and since then, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not appoint a replacement till this year.
Above analysis has established one fact and that is: Hajj 2021 will take place and international pilgrims will be allowed to participate. Secondly, that Hajj 2021 will be conducted under protocol.
The onus now lies on relevant Hajj stakeholders to plan in a more projective manner, prepare and wait for formal announcement by Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and also prepare for a worst case scenario.
Finally, my X-ray focuses not on the body languages rather it was based on the ‘voice languages’ of high profile officials of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in respect of Hajj 2021.
Ibrahim Muhammed is the National Coordinator, Independent Hajj Reporters
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