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COVID-19 pandemic and the history of Hajj

The COVID-19 pandemic is considered as the most crucial global health calamity of the century and the greatest challenge that the humankind has faced since the Second World War.
Saudi Arabia has announced to hold the Hajj 2020 with a ‘very limited’ number of pilgrims by taking precautionary measures due to novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah informed that only Saudi nationals and expatriates of various nationalities will be allowed to perform Hajj this year.
The older pilgrims are not allowed to join the rituals due to avoid overcrowding in order to ensure the safety of pilgrims, the Hajj ministry informed.
Earlier in March, the kingdom asked applicants to put their Hajj plans on hold and suspended Umrah until further notice. So far, Saudi Arabia has recorded 161,005 cases of coronavirus infection and 1,307 deaths.
However, the Hajj has been canceled or restricted many times before in Islamic history. Let’s take an in-depth review of the cancelation or limitation of Hajj.
Importance of Hajj
Hajj is the most divine and sacred journey to the house of ALLAH. All Muslims willingly visit this sacred place because ALLAH has given this place a priority over any other place in the world.
For Muslims, Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam. It is the journey that every adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their lives if they can afford it and are physically able to make the pilgrimage.
Hajj is a chance to wipe clean the slate of one’s mistakes and shortcomings of the past. Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) said: “One who comes to this House for Hajj and avoids all lewdness and sins, he returns as he was on the day his mother gave birth to him.” (Bukhari & Muslim).
Some instances of Hajj cancelations
The Hajj has been canceled or restricted many times before in Islamic history due to disease, political conflict, the activities of bandits and raiders, or other reasons. Here are just a few.
865 A.D: Ismail bin Yousef, Known as Al-Safak, during his conflict with the Abbasid Caliphate based in Baghdad, launched an attack on the holy Arafat Mountain overlooking Mecca in 865, massacring pilgrims there. The raid forced Hajj to be canceled.
930 A.D: A sect of Ismailis known as the Qarmatians raided Mecca because they believed the hajj to be a pagan ritual. Historical accounts say the Qarmatians killed 30,000 pilgrims in the holy city and dumped bodies in the sacred Zamzam well. Hajj was then suspended for a decade until the Black Stone was returned to Mecca.
983 A.D: The rulers of Baghdad and Egypt were at war. The Fatimid rulers of Egypt claimed to be the true leaders of Islam and opposed the rule of the Abbasid dynasty in Iraq and Syria. Their political tug-of-war kept various pilgrims from Mecca and Medina for eight years, until A.D. 991.
1831: Not only conflicts and massacres have canceled Hajj. A plague from India hit Mecca in 1831 and killed three-quarters of the pilgrims there, who had endured weeks of travel through dangerous and barren lands to perform Hajj.
Many outbreaks in quick succession, the hajj was frequently interrupted throughout the mid-19th century. In recent years, too, the pilgrimage has been disrupted for many similar reasons.
In 2012 and 2013, Saudi authorities encouraged the ill and the elderly not to undertake the pilgrimage amid concerns over MERS disease.
In 2017, the 1.8 million Muslim citizens of Qatar were not able to perform the hajj following the decision by Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations to sever diplomatic ties with the country over differences of opinion on various geopolitical issues.
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