Saudi Arabia asked Muslims to put on hold plans to perform the obligatory annual hajj pilgrimage this year as the kingdom grapples with the coronavirus.
“We have asked our Muslim brothers around the world to wait” on making hajj plans “until there is clarity,” Mohammad Benten, the ninister of hajj and umrah, told state-run Al Ekhbariya TV.
Saudi Arabia reported 110 cases of the virus on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,563, including 10 deaths. Halting the hajj, which attracts millions of pilgrims to Islam’s birthplace, would be unprecedented in recent history. The kingdom suspended the lesser, non-obligatory umrah pilgrimage last month.
The country has put the holy cities Mecca and Medina on lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading. The hajj is due begin in late July.
Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, is home to Islam’s holiest site inside the Grand Mosque. Medina is where Islam’s founder is buried. The umrah pilgrimage alone brought almost 7 million visitors from October 2018 to May 2019, according to government data.
The hajj is obligatory for all able-bodied adult Muslim’s once in a lifetime