Pakistan told to defer Hajj contracts

By Shakeel Ahmed

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia on Thursday told Pakistan not to prepare a Hajj agreement this year as the coronavirus panic spreads throughout the world, according to a letter received from the kingdom.
In the letter sent to Religious Affairs Minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten said there should be no agreement this time owing to the lockdown and containment measures against the novel coronavirus.
The kingdom, according to Dr Mohammad Saleh, was continuously monitoring the situation and said that it will inform as soon as a marked improvement regarding the coronavirus was observed.
Qadri consequently halted work on the upcoming Hajj agreement.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony had conducted balloting for the government’s Hajj scheme under which almost 100,000 pilgrims were picked to would go to Saudi Arabia to perform the annual pilgrimage later this year.
Saudi authorities on Thursday barred Pakistan from finalizing agreements relating to Hajj 2020 arrangements amid coronavirus pandemic, media reported.
According to a letter written by Saudi Hajj Minister Dr. Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten to Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noor ul Haq Qadri, Pakistan was asked to stop finalizing its agreements regarding housing, food and travel arrangements for now.
A spokesman for religious affairs ministry said that the Saudi authorities conveyed that the payments for the arrangements should be deferred for time being in order to facilitate the Hajj pilgrims.
“The final agreements should be delayed keeping in view the situation in the aftermath of coronavirus outbreak,” he said said while quoting the letter and added that it further said the Saudi authorities are constantly reviewing the situation due to the global pandemic.
The new directives in this regard will be issued later, said the letter.
Speaking on the matter, Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noorul Haq Qadri said that the Saudi officials were mulling over different options for Hajj this year. “Any final decision in this regard will be taken by the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques and Saudi King Salman,” he said.
It is pertinent to mention here that Noor-ul-Haq Qadri on Tuesday rebuffed the rumours circulating on social media regarding ban on Hajj this year amid coronavirus outbreak.
Responding to the rumours in a post on his Twitter account, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said that there was no truth in reports regarding ban on Hajj in 2020.
“The Hajj preparations are going on as usual and we are in continuous contact with the Saudi Hajj and Umrah ministry,” he said. The federal minister said that there was no directives from the Saudi authorities to halt arrangements for Hajj.
“The Saudi government will consult with top Muslim countries before taking any such decision,” he said.