By EDD K. USMAN
Twitter: @edd1819, Instagram: @bluestar0910, Facebook: Science, Digital & Current Affairs
(SDN) — THE National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) supports Saudi Arabia’s suspension of Umrah because of fears of the spread of COVID-19.
COVID-19 is the official name of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that broke out last December in Wuhan, Hebei, China.
The coronavirus malady is now threatening to become a pandemic, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise to the “highest level” concerns over spread of the killer respiratory disease.
Since the outbreak two months ago more than 80,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus, and over 2,000 cases of deaths, both figures are large majority in China.
On Thursday, February 27, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) announced the suspension albeit on temporary basis of Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage and optional. Hajj, the main pilgrimage of Islam, is obligatory to adult Muslims who are physically, financially, and emotionally capable.
Umrah involves seven times circumambulation of the Ka’aba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, and performing Saie, walking briskly also seven times between Safah and Marwa.
Umrah pilgrims traditionally visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah before or after they performed the optional pilgrimage.
The ban on Umrah also covers prohibition of foreigners from visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Madinah, two of Islam’s holiest sites.
On Friday, the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia visited the NCMF in Quezon City for a meeting with NCMF Secretary/CEO Saidamen B. Pangarungan during which COVID-19 and Umrah were discussed.
Information from the NCMF showed that Saudi Embassy Charge’ d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission Eisa Abdulrahman H. Al-Malki confirmed to Pangarungan the temporary suspension of Umrah.
The NCMF secretary said the suspension as relayed by Al-Malki covers also the issuance of tourists and visitors visas to the Kingdom.
Al-Malki also assured that (so far) the Kingdom has no reported case of coronavirus infection, said Pangarungan.
“That there is a temporary suspension of Umrah, tourist and visitor’s visa and further committed that this decision will be subject to periodic review and evaluation,” he quoted the embassy official.
Pangarungan said the NCMF supports “all the moves of the Philippine authorities and the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
The NCMF chief said Saudi Arabia is sparing no efforts in “taking all precautionary measures to prevent such an outbreak.”
While the Philippines is backing the Umrah suspension, Indonesia, which sends several thousands of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia every year, Umrah and Hajj, has appealed to the Kingdom to reconsider allowing Indonesian Umrah pilgrims to proceed.
As no indication yet of Saudi moves about the Hajj which is expected to be in late July and early August 2020 re: the coronavirus, the NCMF is encouraging the ongoing registration and payment of mutawiff (pilgrimage service fees) to continue.
More than two million pilgrims perform the Hajj every year, with Umrah performers also reaching more than one million a year, a great number of them during the holy month of Ramadan. (SDN)
Featured image of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah courtesy of SAMAA TV.