KUALA LUMPUR: After months of preparation, many Malaysian pilgrims were left disappointed that this year’s Hajj has been canceled, but expressed full understanding of the decision.
Last month, Saudi Arabia announced that in order to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, only a limited number of people would be allowed to perform the Hajj this year.
The move prompted the governments of Muslim-majority countries and Hajj authorities across the world to cancel the pilgrimage for their pilgrims.
Samsiah Muhammad, a 62-year-old retiree, told Arab News that she was devastated to find out she would be unable to perform her pilgrimage, but added “this isn’t anyone’s fault.”
Having spent 10 weeks taking preparatory courses, Muhammad was waiting for her mandatory health checks when she learned about the cancelation.
“This isn’t just affecting us Malaysians but also the rest of the world,” she said.
For Wan Mohamad Ali Wan Idrus, the cancelation was a blessing in disguise as he was already considering canceling his pilgrimage.
“My letter informing me that I was shortlisted arrived on Jan. 30. I got my first offer to perform my Hajj in 2009 along with my family but I had to turn it down,” the 26-year-old told Arab News.
With a wedding already set this month, Idrus said he would not risk being in a crowded place.
“I would not risk it. It would only take one infected person to spread the virus, and given how large of a gathering the Hajj is, it definitely would spread rapidly,” he said.
Businessman Azman Jusoh said that he was shortlisted to perform the Hajj with his wife after making an appeal to the Lembaga Tabung Haji (Hajj Pilgrims Fund Board).
“We were selected to go in 2025 but we made an appeal to instead perform our pilgrimage this year and got in,” he said.
The 48-year-old and his wife, Nur Shaliza, 45, completed their 10-week preparation course in January and were preparing to travel to Makkah and Madinah, though they had a feeling it would be called off.
“We had a hunch that Hajj would probably be postponed because of how fast COVID-19 spread,” he said, adding that the lockdown imposed in Malaysia on March 18 was a definite sign that their plans to perform the Hajj would be canceled.
“We take it positively, maybe this year isn’t a good year for us, but we are hoping for a miracle to go next year.”
Jusoh said both he and his wife paid about $4,700 for their Hajj package alone, not taking into account their expenditures in Saudi Arabia.
The Hajj Pilgrims Fund Board said in a statement to Arab News that the cancelation was in the best interests of all.
“As we all know … the obligation to perform Hajj depends on the ability of an individual to afford it,” the board said, adding that this also took into account health, safety, and welfare.
“We advise all future pilgrims to accept the decision well and with an open heart,” it said.
“Before arriving at this decision, the Malaysian government had consulted various authorities, including the Ministry of Health, the National Fatwa Council and Tabung Haji,” the board’s executive director, Syed Saleh Syed Abdul Rahman, told Arab News.
This year, 31,600 Malaysians were shortlisted to perform the pilgrimage. The Hajj Pilgrims Fund Board said it would prioritize their applications for next year’s Hajj season.
Malaysian pilgrims are subsidized by the government, and pay $2,340 per person for their journey and Hajj preparation courses.