Hajj Restrictions: Frustration for Congregations and Economic Difficulties of Saudi Arabia | WORLD: Current information from around the world | DW

The annual Hajj is an activity that involves millions of people and is one of the largest crowds in the world. However, in 2020 this activity will be very different.

If there are usually around 2.5 million worshipers coming to Saudi Arabia from around the world, then by the end of July this number will be reduced to around 1,000 people. All of this is due to restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although, the government of Saudi Arabia has not announced exact figures.

This restriction certainly causes disappointment for pilgrims from all over the world, and becomes a local “disaster” for citizens who depend their economy on the pilgrimage sector.

Mohammad Tariq from the Cavan Mosque in Ireland said his friends who intend to travel to Mecca to carry out the pilgrimage they had dreamed of for life, must be delayed.

“They are not sad, they are more than that. Like if someone prepares to see their Lord’s house and they can’t leave, “Tariq said.

Feelings of frustration experienced by pilgrims who failed to perform the pilgrimage in 2020, is not the same as feelings of disappointment just because it failed a summer vacation, according to Sean McLoughlin, professor of Islamic anthropology who studies the pilgrimage industry at the University of Leeds in England.

He added that many Muslims had long dreamed of carrying out one of the main obligations in Islam.

“Actually there is a huge impact – psychologically and spiritually,” McLoughlin said. “In the industrial sector, this is something that is highly commercialized and very political in many ways, but on a daily scale of worshipers, this means a lot to them.”

Like a city dying after the cancellation of Hajj

The wide valleys that are usually covered by tents in Mina and luxury hotels around the Sacred Mosque are not operating. The situation in that location is like a dead city.

Local residents who depend on the pilgrimage sector worth US $ 10.6 billion, or around Rp. 152 trillion, feel a loss.

Mekah, Arab Saudi (picture-alliance/AA/R. Turgut)

Residents who depend on the Hajj sector are at a disadvantage

“Of course, we are disappointed,” said Hashim Tayeb, who was forced to close his perfume shop in a luxury complex in front of the mosque for a while.

Many restaurants, barberships, and other businesses “will definitely be affected, especially travel agents,” Tayeb said.

But he tolerated the cancellation of the pilgrimage for security in the middle of a pandemic. If the hajj activities continue to be carried out, where people cling to each other, it could be a new disaster for the country which has had more than 190 thousand cases of COVID-19.

Loss of livelihood

The cancellation of the Umrah since early March which accounted for 20% of the Brutto Domestic Product (GDP) of the non-oil industry in Saudi Arabia, has also added to broader losses.

A driver from the city of Medina – the host of the pilgrimage site – told DW that he and his colleagues had been unemployed for four months.

“We used to work every day, it was our livelihood,” said the man who did not want to be named.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projecting a contraction of around 6.8% for the Saudi economy this year, as a result of the historic decline in oil prices and other losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

Saudi Arabia has taken steps to save the economy, such as triple the value added tax (VAT) on July 1, as well as cutting government benefits. This has an impact on the amount of consumer spending in Saudi Arabia, which has declined by more than 34% in April compared to the same time last year.

Mekah, Arab Saudi (picture-alliance/AA/Stringer)

The streets in Mecca are now empty due to hajj restrictions due to a pandemic

“Vision 2030” without purpose

The closing of the hajj and umrah is a hard blow to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who plans to diversify the economy off of oil, according to anthropologist McLoughlin.

According to the results of McLoughlin’s research in 2019, the plan involved increasing the annual quota of pilgrims to 6 million people and pilgrims to 30 million by the end of this decade.

“The economy (Saudi Arabia) may be back, but it is unlikely to scale at 2030,” he told DW.

This will be a challenge for SBM leadership, especially the problems faced by the younger generation because the vision of 2030 is difficult to achieve and the tourism sector is also difficult.

“A great test for SBM is whether he can save young people, by working in the private sector,” wrote Andras Krieg, assistant professor at King’s College London, at the Middle East Eye news outlet.

High demand

In the midst of economic demands, it is still unclear when the authorities will reopen the pilgrimage activities.

McLoughlin said worshipers, tour operators and hotels in Mecca behaved as if the industry would reopen later this year.

The 2015 Mina tunnel incident, which is called one of the biggest disaster tragedies in the history of the pilgrimage, demands that Saudi authorities continue to improve.

“Saudi Arabia’s reputation has been questioned through a lot of criticism,” McLoughlin said.

“But for ordinary worshipers, this does not defeat their love, their desire, their emotions, their attachment, their desire to be in holy places, to visit the house of God and to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad. And this is very, very significant in terms of the long-term prospects of religious tourism. “

pkp / rap

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