By JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL | Bureau Chief, Metro Manila News Bureau
GOLDEN MOSQUE, Quiapo, Manila: “Definitely, there will be no Filipinos who can leave for Saudi Arabia to perform their pilgrimage in Makkah for this year Hajj in conformity with the COVID-19 health protocol of social distancing,” according to the Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (BPE-NCMF).
In an exclusive interview , BPE-NCMF Director Malo Manonggiring told Philippine Muslim Today on Thursday it is official and final that there is no more hope for Filipino Muslims who intend to leave for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in order to perform Hajj this year albeit it is in compliance with their spiritual obligations as one the Five Pillars of Islam.
Manonggiring said he based his official announcement after their conference together with NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan and Saudi Ambassador Dr. Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Bussairy at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Manila.
Ambassador Al-Bussairy relayed to the NCMF officials the directive of King Salman Al-Saud who said the Saudi monarch issued the edict in order to protect the pilgrims from around the world of the menace of COVID-19 that had affected millions of people around the world.
As of January 25, reports said the pandemic COVID-19 is affecting 213 countries and territories around the world. There are 9.39 million of people around the world to be confirmed positively infected by the virus; 4.72 million have recovered; and 481 thousands have died around the world.
In the Philippines, 32,295 are confirmed positive of COVID-19; 8,656 have already recovered; and 1,204 deaths.
In Saudi Arabia, the latest data reports says there are 167,000 confirmed COVID positive; 113,000 have recovered; and 1,387 deaths.
In Makkah Province alone where the Kaaba in Masjidil Haram is located and the center of Hajj ritual, there are 52,563 confirmed positively affected by Coronavirus; 40,332 have recovered; and 872 deaths.
Whereas, in Al Madinah Province, the second venue of Hajj ritual where Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is buried and the Prophet’s mosque is located, it has the share also of this COVID-19 pandemic. There are 13,889 confirmed positive of Coronavirus; 11,706 have already recovered; and 86 deaths.
Earlier the leadership of BPE-NCMF had expressed optimism that Filipino pilgrims can still go on Hajj to Makkah, when the decision made by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah that only Saudi nationals and other nationalities residing there are permitted to go on Hajj. (See: NCMF hopeful Filipinos can go for Hajj this year)
Manonggiring said he heard that Philippine Ambassador to Riyadh, Ambassador Adnan Alonto has divulged to some private individuals in Manila regarding the decision of King Salman as implemented by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. But Manonggiring said, “In the absence of official pronouncements, they have to wait for the official statement of the Saudi Hajj ministry before they can make any move or announce any decision to inform Filipino pilgrims that they cannot proceed anymore with their spiritual journey.”
Secretary Pangarungan was already designated by President Rodrigo Duterte last January 21 as the Philippine Amirul Hajj or head of Hajj delegation to Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, Director Manonggiring said he had requested the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to allocate the Philippines through the Saudi Embassy in Manila with 9,000 Hajj Visa.
However, after the meeting of lawyer Pangarungan as the NCMF head and Manonggiring as the pilgrimage director of the Philippines with the Saudi ambassador to Manila, it has already cleared the doubts as to whether Filipino pilgrims can go on with their journey to the Muslims’ holy land.
“We felt sorry that no single Filipino pilgrim can depart or go on Hajj to Makkah this year, but this is good for all of us as we don’t want any of our pilgrims to be infected by Coronavirus,” Manonggiring said.
He added that Secretary Pangarungan has told Saudi Ambassador Al-Bussairy that the Muslims in the Philippines with him at the helm of the NCMF are fully supportive of the decision of King Salman that for this Hajj 2020 only those Muslims residing in the Kingdom meaning the Saudi nationals and Muslims of other nationalities already residing there are permitted to enter Makkah and Al Madinah to perform their Hajj rituals. However, they are still subject to the health protocols of the Saudi Ministry of Health on social distancing. Thus a limited number of pilgrims can perform the ritual around Kaaba in Makkah, as well as the visitation of Prophet Muhammad mosque in Al Madinah.
But according to the Philippines pilgrimage director he has informed all the NCMF accredited Sheikhs to inform their “Jama-a” or pilgrims who are supposed to be led by them not to worry since there will be another Hajj next year.
Dr. Kaberl “KOH” Hajilan, one of the Sheikhs from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi thanked Pilgrimage Director Manonggiring for informing them of the final decision of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
“It is the will of the Almighty Allah that we cannot proceed with the Hajj this year due to the menace of this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Hajilan who is at the same time a professor of the Mindanao State University in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.
In a statement earlier received by the Philippine Muslim Today, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah confirmed that hajj is going to take place this year 2020 (1441 H) but for limited number of pilgrims and only for nationalities already residing within the Kingdom.
The statement issued from Riyadh on Monday said limiting the number of pilgrims was because the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread to more than 180 countries around the world, and that deaths related to COVID-19 have reached almost half a million and over 7 million cases have been confirmed globally.
It is “Likewise in accordance with what has been stressed by the Saudi Ministry of Health regarding the continued risks stemming from this pandemic and the lack of available vaccinations and a cure for those who have been infected by COVID-19 around the world,” said the statement.
The statement added this is also to preserve the security of global public health especially in light of the increase in the number of cases in most countries according to reports issued by global health organizations and institutions, and considering the risks of the disease and infections spreading in crowded gatherings where it is difficult to maintain safe social distancing among the individuals gathered.
The Ministry also advised pilgrims to take all necessary precautionary measures to protect pilgrims, including by suspending the entry of Umrah pilgrims while ensuring the safety of the pilgrims already present at the holy sites.
The Saudi decision has received much approbation from Islamic and international organizations in recognition of its wide contribution to fighting the virus globally and supporting the efforts of health organizations in limiting the spread of the deadly disease.
This decision is taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols to protect human beings from the risks associated with this pandemic and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving the lives of human beings.
The government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is honored to serve millions of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims annually and it confirms that this decision stems from the top priority it accords maintaining the safety of pilgrims on its land until they depart to their home countries.
“We ask Allah the Almighty to protect all countries from this pandemic and keep all humans protected and safe,” the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said.
With additional reports from MARIA FHEBIE ORTIL, Metro Manila Correspondent