Early decision by Muis supported by the Fatwa Committee to safeguard the health and well-being of pilgrims
15 May 2020
1. The World Health Organisation has recognised the outbreak of the COVID-19 as a global pandemic. To date, more than 4.2 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide, resulting in more than 290,000 deaths. Even with many countries putting in place measures to curb the disease, the numbers of infection and deaths on a daily basis remains high and the possibility of further waves of transmission remain, as countries ease their measures.
2. The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has severely curtailed our mobility to travel, and this will remain so for some time. There remain many uncertainties regarding the spread and impact of COVID-19 on infected patients. The government has issued a Travel Advisory against travel abroad which remains in force.
3. The annual Haj pilgrimage involves the gathering of about 2.5 million people from all over the world, in the city of Makkah. This is a large scale gathering, involving pilgrims from across the world. As with the case of overseas travel, there are inherent risks for Singaporean pilgrims to participate in the Haj and contract the virus.
4. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has been monitoring the developments in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) since the announcement of the suspension of Umrah pilgrimage to minimise the spread of the COVID-19 virus to Makkah and Madinah.
5. In its earlier media statement on 27 February 2020, Singapore expressed its full support for KSA’s quick response in implementing precautionary measures against the deadly virus to ensure the health and safety of pilgrims and the global community. Singapore noted that the decision to suspend Umrah was an exemplary measure that highlighted the KSA’s leadership in managing a global pandemic.
6. In March 2020, the Ministry of Haj and Umrah of KSA issued an advisory to Haj agencies around the world to stop taking on new reservations or payments with respect to Haj pilgrimage in 2020. Saudia Airlines also announced the suspension of all international flights until further notice.
7. As of today, KSA has not made an official announcement on the status of Haj pilgrimage for 2020.
Decision to Defer Haj 2020 to Next Year
8. Muis, in consultation with MOH, has decided that, as a responsible stakeholder, it is only prudent for Singapore to defer its Haj 2020 plans for all our 900 pilgrims to the following year (2021).
9. The Fatwa Committee has convened to discuss the matter and supports the decision for the deferment of Haj for Singaporean pilgrims to the following year for reasons of their health and safety. The Committee is of the opinion that in the current context, not all the pre-conditions for a safe Haj are met, and therefore, they recommend that the Singapore delegation defer its Haj plans in order to avoid potential harm. The fatwa is available here: English | Malay.
10. Muis has also consulted the Association of Muslim Travel Agents (AMTAS) Taskforce on the welfare, health and safety of our pilgrims in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given Singapore’s circumstances, the AMTAS Taskforce fully supports Muis’ decision to defer the Singapore delegation to Haj 2021.
11. With the deferment, the 900 pilgrims who have registered to perform their Haj this year will be automatically rescheduled to perform Haj in 2021 instead.
12. Muis hopes that this early decision will help ease the anxieties of pilgrims and their families.
Considerations for Singapore
13. We have full confidence in KSA’s management of the pandemic, and that appropriate measures will be put in place should Haj proceed. However, Singapore has its own considerations to safeguard the health and wellbeing of Singaporean pilgrims.
14. More than 80% of Singaporeans who are scheduled to perform Haj this year are above the age of 50. The Ministry of Health (MOH) advised that this category of individuals face a greater risk of complications and mortality if they contract the COVID-19 virus.
15. In addition, younger pilgrims who are working have expressed challenges in obtaining leave to perform the Haj and concerns over their job security, given the challenging economic situation. This is compounded by the fact that Singaporean travellers must serve a 14-day Stay-Home-Notice upon their return to Singapore.
16. Many pilgrims have approached our Haj General Service Agents (GSA), given the need to make personal, family and work arrangements in the coming months. In past years, pilgrims would usually have made payment and secured their travel arrangements and accommodation before the month of Ramadan. However, with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly challenging to adequately prepare logistical and administrative requirements for the pilgrimage.
17. Moreover, with Singapore’s healthcare resources fully committed to managing COVID-19 and other pressing hospital requirements, we are unable to assemble a team of doctors and nurses to support this year’s Haj delegation. The absence of such a medical team will compromise the health and well-being of our pilgrims.
18. While we want to help our Muslim community to fulfil their pilgrimage, we also have a responsibility to protect the pilgrims and their families, as well as the wider community in Singapore, from the risk of infection.
19. Muis will continue to work together with AMTAS and its members on ways to minimise the impact of a deferment on AMTAS members as well as our pilgrims.
20. Muis will send letters to the affected pilgrims on the details on the deferment of Haj 2020, and the next steps they should take. Should pilgrims have any clarifications, they can contact their respective GSAs or the Muis hotline at 6350 5369.
21. Muis, with the concurrence of the Fatwa Committee, and in consultation with MOH and AMTAS, has decided to defer the Singapore delegation’s Haj 2020 to the following year.
22. This deferment will safeguard the well-being of our pilgrims, many of who are elderly and more susceptible to COVID-19. This early decision will also allay Singaporean pilgrims’ concerns on the uncertainty and the risks involved in performing the Haj this year.
23. Singapore has full confidence that KSA will take all the necessary steps to curb the spread of the virus amid the global pandemic.
MAJLIS UGAMA ISLAM SINGAPURA