SINGAPORE: This year's Haj plans for 900 local Muslim pilgrims will be deferred to 2021 in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) on Friday (May 15).
The pilgrims who have registered to perform their Haj this year will be automatically rescheduled to perform the pilgrimage next year instead, MUIS added in a media release.
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MUIS said it was "only prudent" for the Haj to be deferred, a decision supported by its Fatwa Committee, which issues guidelines on navigating modern society according to Islamic principles.
“The Fatwa Committee has convened to discuss the matter and supports the decision for the deferment of Haj for Singaporean pilgrims to the following year for reasons of their health and safety.
“The Committee is of the opinion that in the current context, not all the pre-conditions for a safe Haj are met, and therefore, they recommend that the Singapore delegation defer its Haj plans in order to avoid potential harm," said MUIS.
MUIS said it also consulted the Association of Muslim Travel Agents (AMTAS) Taskforce, which "fully supports" its decision.
The council said that Saudi Arabia issued an advisory in March asking Haj agencies around the world to stop taking new reservations for the pilgrimage. Saudia Airlines also announced the suspension of all international flights.
However, Saudi Arabia has yet to make an official announcement on the status of the 2020 Haj pilgrimage.
"We have full confidence in Saudi Arabia's management of the pandemic and that appropriate measures will be put in place should Haj proceed. However, Singapore has its own considerations to safeguard the health and wellbeing of Singaporean pilgrims," said MUIS.
The council noted that more than 80 per cent of Singaporeans who are scheduled to perform Haj this year are above the age of 50 – a group that MOH advised face a greater risk of complications and mortality if they contract COVID-19.
"In addition, younger pilgrims who are working have expressed challenges in obtaining leave to perform the Haj and concerns over their job security, given the challenging economic situation," said MUIS.
"In past years, pilgrims would usually have made payment and secured their travel arrangements and accommodation before the month of Ramadan. However, with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly challenging to adequately prepare logistical and administrative requirements for the pilgrimage," MUIS added.
MUIS also said it was unable to assemble a team of doctors and nurses for this year’s Haj delegation as Singapore’s healthcare resources are fully committed to managing COVID-19 and other pressing hospital requirements.
“While we want to help our Muslim community to fulfill their pilgrimage, we also have a responsibility to protect the pilgrims and their families, as well as the wider community in Singapore, from the risk of infection,” the council said.
“MUIS hopes that this early decision will help ease the anxieties of pilgrims and their families.”
MUIS said it will send letters to affected pilgrims with information on the Haj deferment and what steps they should take next. Those with questions may refer to their respective travel agencies or call the MUIS hotline at 6350 5369.