The Jakarta Post
The Religious Affairs Ministry is considering what to do if this year’s annual haj is canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have prepared a plan for if the haj is eventually canceled,” said Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi in a statement on Friday.
He said the Saudi government might cancel the haj because it is currently restricting people from visiting the two Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, where most of the haj processions take place. Saudi Arabia has also been suspending international flights to and from the country since March 15.
Should Saudi Arabia prolong the restrictions and eventually call off the annual pilgrimage, Fachrul said the government would return all travel payments to Indonesian pilgrims.
According to the ministry, about 221,000 pilgrims were to go on haj this year. They were required to pay travel expenses ranging from Rp 31.4 million (US$2,169) to Rp 72.3 million per person, depending on the point of departure.
However, Fachrul asked haj pilgrims to still fully pay their haj travel expenses until May 19, as there had no further notice from the Saudi government. The minister added that 83,337 haj pilgrims had paid for their expenses as of Friday.
“We promise to return the travel expenses to pilgrims if the haj is canceled. We are monitoring any policy changes in Saudi Arabia and ask pilgrims to be patient when facing the situation,” he added.
This year’s haj preparations were still underway, as the government had started procuring transportation, accommodations and catering for Indonesian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.
However, the government had not disbursed the down payments for those services since the Saudi haj and umrah (minor haj) minister sent a letter to the government last week asking Indonesia to postpone all payments related to haj accommodations.
The government would also suspend manasik (pilgrimage rehearsals) for Indonesian pilgrims to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, given that the event had always involved massive crowds of would-be haj pilgrims.
“We are now preparing another plan so that the pilgrims would still be able to perform manasik even though they will not gather in a big place,” Fachrul said.
“We would distribute haj books, provide education via social media and online learning so that the pilgrims can practice haj before their departure to Saudi Arabia.” (glh)