The Jakarta Post
The Religious Affairs Ministry has made assurances that this year’s haj is still on schedule for July, dismissing reports that the Saudi Arabian government has asked Muslims around the world to put the annual pilgrimage on hold due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Ministerial spokesman Oman Fathurahman said that Riyadh had not formally informed Jakarta of a suspension of the haj.
“The Saudi government has not decided whether the haj will be deferred. We will continue with preparations as long as there is no official announcement from Saudi Arabia regarding the haj,” Oman said in a statement on Wednesday.
Several media outlets and news agencies have reported over the last 24 hours that Saudi Arabia had asked Muslims to "postpone" plans to perform the obligatory pilgrimage this year as the kingdom grapples with its COVID-19 outbreak.
Saudi Arabia confirmed 1,720 COVID-19 cases and with 16 deaths on Thursday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
“We have asked our Muslim brothers around the world to wait on making hajj plans until there is clarity,” Benten told state-run broadcaster Al Ekhbariya, as reported by Bloomberg.
However, Oman said that international media had failed to accurately translate Benten’s statement, which was made in Arabic.
Rather than asking Muslims to put the haj on hold, Oman claimed that Benten had asked pilgrims to postpone any "haj contracts" for the time being, pending new announcements from the kingdom.
“The Saudi minister […] only suggested that they not be hasty in booking accommodation for the pilgrimage. This might be because the Saudi government is still preparing the haj facilities,” said Oman, adding that Benten’s statement was similar to the letter the Indonesian ministry had received.
The latest correspondence that the ministry received on the matter was a letter on March 6.
In it, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammad Benten asks Jakarta to delay finalizing the government-sponsored haj program until further notice, including transportation, accommodation and catering arrangements.
Oman added that the government had a backup plan if the haj was canceled, that Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi had promised to refund all pilgrims in such an eventuality.
In the meantime, the government has asked Indonesian pilgrims to pay their haj travel fees in full by May 19.
By Tuesday, more than 94,000 pilgrims had fully paid their travel costs, which ranged from Rp 31.4 million (US$2,169) to Rp 72.3 million per pilgrim.
Around 221,000 Indonesian pilgrims have signed up for this year’s haj, with the first batch of pilgrims scheduled to depart on June 26.