Home OPINION COMMENTARY 2020 Pilgrimage In Saudi Arabia: To Be Or Not To Be?  By...

2020 Pilgrimage In Saudi Arabia: To Be Or Not To Be?  By Imam Murtadha Gusau

In The Name Of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful. All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is His servant and Messenger.
Dear brothers and sisters, as Hajj pilgrimage is under risk of cancellation for this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, people ask: is it the first lockdown in history?
Minister of Hajj and Umrah of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten urged Muslims on El-Akhbariya state Television Tuesday to wait for a while before making plans to make the annual Hajj pilgrimage until there is more clarity about the global containment of the deadly Coronavirus pandemic.
Every year, nearly 2.5 million pilgrims visit the holy sites of Islam in Makkah and Madinah for a week-long ritual, which is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim.
Pilgrimage is big business for Saudi Arabia and the backbone of plans to expand visitor numbers under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious economic reform agenda.
Cancelling the Hajj would be unprecedented in modern times, but curbing attendance from high-risk areas has happened before, including in recent years during the Ebola outbreak.
Disease outbreaks have regularly been a concern surrounding the Hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, especially as pilgrims come from all over the world.
The kingdom stopped Umrah, a non-mandatory pilgrimage, in late February due to the pandemic. With the rising Covid-19 cases around the world, the cancellation of the Hajj pilgrimage, which starts in late July, is also on cards.
Muslims around the world shudder seeing the pictures of empty Ka’abah, a cube-shaped building towards which they pray, since it’s almost always full of pilgrims making rounds and reading verses of the Qur’an.
Though Hajj has been cancelled several times over the centuries, since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s foundation in 1932 it has never missed a year, nor even during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1917-18 that killed millions of people worldwide.
But if Saudi Arabia cancels 2020’s Hajj, it will be added to a list of almost 40 dramatic cancellations since the first in 629. If the Hajj pilgrimage is truly cancelled this year, it won’t be the first, however. Here are some historical events that prevented Muslims from visiting the holy city in the last 1,400 years:
In 570 AD, Yemeni governor Abraha was building a cathedral in the city of Sana’a to make a new centre for pilgrimage.
He realised that the Ka’abah already served that purpose, so he organised a major military expedition to destroy Makkah to direct pilgrims to his cathedral and make Yemen the only destination for pilgrimage.
In 570 AD, a year before the birth of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), he launched an invasion campaign to Hijaz. He reportedly aided his large army with an elephant. As they came close to the holy Ka’abah, the elephant did not move further.
The residents of Makkah, who were incapable and unprepared to stand against Abraha’s army, fled to the mountains. That year, people could not make the pilgrimage to Makkah, fearing war. Several historians have reported that Abraha’s forces could not maintain the siege as they were struck by divine powers, which eventually crushed his army and ended the siege.
The number of people who came to Makkah for the pilgrimage began to decrease each year after the Shi’ah Qarmatians State started to carry out continuous attacks on Makkah and its pilgrimage routes before 930 AD.
Islamic scholars issued a fatwa in 930 banning the pilgrimage to Makkah because of the lack of life and property security.
In the same year, the leader of the Qarmatians, Abu Tahir al Janabi, raided Makkah and massacred tens of thousands of pilgrims.
Historians state that the Qarmatians had banned the pilgrimage for more than 10 years.
Before the Shi’ah Qarmatians left Makkah, they stole the golden door of the Ka’abah as well as Hajrul Aswad, also known as the black stone, which dates back to the time of Adam and Eve. The two stolen items remained under their control for 22 years. The Abbasids paid 120,000 dinars in 952 for their return.
There were many outbreaks in the Hijaz region of the Arabian Peninsula over the 19th Century, such as the plague, cholera and meningitis.
The spread of the plague epidemic in the Hijaz region in 1814 caused the death of about 8,000 people, and the pilgrimage was not allowed that year. An epidemic started again in the pilgrimage season of 1837, continuing until 1892.
Nearly a thousand had died every day due to the highly fatal epidemic between this period. Doctors from Egypt were sent to build a quarantine on the road to Makkah to look after people.
On November 20, 1979, a rebel, Juhaiman al-Utaibi raided the Ka’abah in the morning (Subh/Fajr) prayer. He expressed several political demands including the dismissal of the Saudi regime, the end of the kingdom’s relations with Western superpowers, the halt of the sale of oil to Western countries, and the closure of foreign military bases.
The High Scholar Committee of the kingdom issued a fatwa, asking the Saudi regime to launch an armed intervention and rid the city of all the rebels.
The raid continued for about 15 days and was only ended with the help of a specialist team from France. During the raid, Ka’abah remained closed for two weeks.
At the end of the two-week period, 127 Saudi soldiers, 117 of Juhaiman’s supporters and 26 civilians had been killed during the clashes. Juhaiman and his 62 followers were later executed.
Respected servants of Allah, this year the Hajj is due to take place in July and as the spread of Coronavirus shows no signs of abating, many people fear that the Hajj may have to be cancelled. More than two million people perform the Hajj in Makkah every year and this idea was previously unthinkable.
However, the Hajj has been cancelled many times before in Islamic history due to disease, conflict, the activities of bandits and raiders, or other reasons and this idea is not as unprecedented as people think.
Last week, the Saudi King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives released a statement noting 40 times in history during which the Hajj was either cancelled or the number of pilgrims was extremely low.
Perhaps the most infamous cancellation of the Hajj took place in the 10th century AD, which corresponded to the third century of the Islamic calendar, after an obscure sect took over the holy site in Makkah.
The Qarmatians were a heterodox sect based in eastern Arabia, who established their own state under Abu Tahir al-Janabi. Their belief system was based on Isma’ili Shi’ah and mixed with gnostic elements and their society was egalitarian, with American author Kenneth Rexroth calling them the “only communistic society to control a large territory” before the 20th century.
However, they considered the Hajj to be a pagan ritual and in 930 AD Abu Tahir carried out a vicious attack on Makkah during the Hajj season.
According to historic accounts, the Qarmatians killed 30,000 pilgrims while mockingly chanting verses of the Qur’an at them and dumped their bodies in the sacred Zamzam well. They then stole the Black Stone from the Ka’abah. For ten years after this the Hajj was cancelled.
This was not the first violent attack on Hajj pilgrims. In 865 AD, Isma’il bin Yusuf, known as Al-Safak, who led a rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate, massacred pilgrims gathered at the Arafah Mountain near Makkah, also forcing the cancellation of the Hajj.
In 1000 AD the Hajj was cancelled for a much more prosaic reason – rising costs associated with travel. In 1831, a plague from India killed nearly three quarters of the pilgrims performing Hajj, while between 1837 and 1892, infection killed hundreds of pilgrims on a daily basis, according to the King Abdulaziz Centre.
Infections often spread during the Hajj. Before the modern age, they were much more of a problem than today, with thousands of pilgrims gathering together at close quarters and no adequate treatment for sometimes deadly diseases.
Beloved brothers and sisters, while the spread of Coronavirus has alarmed the world and may very well disrupt the Hajj this year, disease, conflict, and the perils of travel have affected Muslim’s ability to perform one of the key pillars of their faith throughout history.
Hajj has been stopped in history more than 40 times… Will it stop again because of Coronavirus?
According to scholars and historians, the Hajj rites have stopped more than 40 times throughout history for several different reasons, including political turmoil, natural disasters, outbreaks of epidemics, economic depression and other causes.
The important question that many people think of today is, will the ritual pilgrimages stop again this year due to the outbreak of the new virus Corona known as Covid-19, especially since it has not yet been contained?
What are the chances of the pilgrimage season for the current year 2020 in the event that the Coronavirus is not completely contained around the world by next July?
The most important years of pilgrimage in history to have been stopped:
865 CE massacre at the level of Arafah: Corresponding to 251 AH, the heroes of the Hajj, after witnessing the massacre at the level of Arafah, where Isma’il bin Yusuf Al-Alawi and those with him attacked the crowds of the pilgrims, and they killed large numbers.
930 CE Qarmatians and theft of black stone: Corresponding to 317 AH, Qarmatians raided a heinous crime on the Sacred Mosque and killed those in it and stole the Black Stone and were absent for 22 years and did not return to its place except in 339 AH, where Qarmatians believed that the pilgrimage is one of the rituals of pre-Islamic and idolatry.
983 AD disputes between Bani Abbas and Bani Ubaid: Corresponding to 372 AH, it was said that no one from Iraq this year went to the year 380 AH because of the discord and differences between the successors of Bani Abbas and the successors of Egypt Bani Ubaid.
1037 pilgrims from Egypt only: Corresponding to 428 AH, no pilgrims from Iraq and pilgrims from Egypt and others.
1253 AD Baghdadis return after 10 years: Corresponding to 650 AH, the people of Baghdad returned to Hajj after an expectation of 10 years, following the death of the victorious caliph.
1257 AD, no one from the Hijaz pilgrimage: Corresponding to 655 AH, none of the people of the Hijaz performed pilgrimage, nor did the banner of the kings of the Kings be taken to anyone in Makkah.
1814 AD The plague: About 8,000 people died in the country of Hijaz due to the plague.
1831 AD An Indian pandemic kills three quarters of the pilgrims: Corresponding to 1246 AH, an outbreak occurred during the Hajj season, an epidemic believed to have come from India, and three quarters of the pilgrims died due to it.
1837 AD Epidemic outbreaks: Pilgrimage seasons saw epidemics until the 1840s.
1846 AD cholera outbreaks for several years: A cholera outbreak spread among pilgrims and remained present during the pilgrimage seasons until 1850 CE. Then he returned in 1865 AD and 1883 AD.
1858 AD escape from the Hijaz to Egypt: A severe pandemic spread, pushing people to flee from Hijaz to Egypt, which built a quarantine in the well of Aden, to avert epidemics.
1864, a thousand pilgrims die every day: 1000 pilgrims die every day due to the outbreak of a highly dangerous epidemic. In 1871 AD, Madinah struck an epidemic that forced Egypt to send doctors and build a quarantine in Makkah on the road from Makkah to Madinah.
1892 AD Accumulation of dead bodies: The cholera outbreak coincided with the Hajj season and was severe, so the dead bodies piled up, it was not possible for time to bury them, and deaths increased in Arafah and culminated in Mina.
1895 AD Typhoid outbreaks: A pandemic of typhoid or dysentery fever spread from a convoy that came from Madinah and continued to a weak degree with Arafah and did not spread later and ended in Mina.
1987 Meningitis outbreaks: Severe and highly infectious meningitis resulted in at least 10,000 infections.
Attempts to prevent pilgrims from epidemics: The epidemics in the history of the Great Mosque of Makkah and the country of Hijaz were very many, as history recorded the intensity of crowding and visitors from different regions around the world during the Hajj season.
In this season, the potential for transmission of infectious respiratory diseases that can be transmitted by droplets from the respiratory secretions such as influenza, meningitis and the current Coronavirus increases.
In the book “The Pilgrimage a Hundred Years Ago”, the Russian traveler and military leader, Abdulaziz Dolchen, who visited the Hijaz between 1898 and 1899, indicated that the epidemic probably begins to spread to Arafah and is very prevalent in Mina. If the stand in Arafah does not witness any epidemic outbreaks, there is great hope that it does not happen A total epidemic of the year of Hajj.
Dolchen also says that in Makkah and Madinah there were quarries and a mobile hospital with capacity for 30 patients, and the Makkan quarantine with the pilgrims moved to Arafah and then to Mina where he would like a building dedicated to him and in these two places as in Makkah the hospital covers free medication and ambulance services when necessary but he is completely incapacitated If a severe epidemic breaks out among the pilgrims.
Dear brothers and sisters, I pray, May Allah in His Infinite Mercy safeguard us, heal the infected patients of Covid-19 and all sick all over the world, and remove the epidemic entirely from the surface of the earth. Ameen.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
  • Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah in Kogi State. He can be reached via: gusauimam@gmail.com or +2348038289761.
Editorial staff
Editorial Staff at Greenbarge Reporters is member of a team of journalists led by Editor-in-Chief, Yusuf Ozi Usman.