For Muslims around the world, the Haj pilgrimage is one of the primary duties and one which is very close to their heart. This pilgrimage has to be done by Muslims at least once in a life time by those who can afford it. People plan for months, if not years together, to make this trip.
Handling such a large number of pilgrims pouring in from all parts of the globe is a logistical nightmare for the authorities. Despite extensive arrangements, major accidents have occured in the past, just because of the sheer volume of people converging at one place. This was the reason why a rule is already in place that Muslims currently residing in Saudi Arabia cannot perform Haj if they have already done it within the past 5 years.
On 22nd July, 2009, Health ministers from Arab countries met in Cairo, Egypt, and unanimously agreed to impose certain restrictions with immediate effect. The new restrictions are that pilgrims above 65 years would not be allowed to perform Haj. Also, children below 12 years would not be allowed, as also those with chronic diseases. Also excluded are those with symptoms of the now infamous H1N1 virus or swine flu as it is commonly known. Though the resolution is to be ratified by the respective Governments, it is just a matter of formality before it becomes a rule, because the decision of the Arab ministers has been unanimous.
Statistically, about one third of the pilgrims performing Haj are above 65 years. For those who have been saving for this trip for quite a long time, this news has come as a blow. But more cause of worry is for those who have already paid money and are waiting for the visas to be stamped in their passports.
It is still not clear whether this new rule would be a permanent one or whether this is just for the time being, until the swine flu epidemic across the world comes under control. Meanwhile, this blog would continue to keep track of the latest developments and would keep you posted.