New Delhi: Muslims from India will not be permitted to travel to Saudi Arabia's Mecca this year for the annual Islamic pilgramage Haj.
The government took the decision after the kingdom conveyed that pilgrims should not be sent this year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Tuesday.
The decision was taken after Saudi Arabia's Haj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten telephoned last night and suggested not to send pilgrims from India for Haj this year, he told reporters.
Saudi Arabia on Monday said it has barred international visitors from making the Islamic pilgrimage, in a bid to control the coronavirus pandemic.
Naqvi said 2,13,000 applications had been received for Haj 2020 and the process to refund the full amount of money deposited by the applicants without any deduction has been started immediately.
The money will be refunded through online Direct Benefit Transfer mode into bank accounts of applicants, the Minority Affairs Minister said, adding this will be the first time since Independence that pilgrims from India will not be going for Haj due to the unprecedented situation posed by the pandemic.
More than 2,300 women had applied to perform Haj without mehram (male companion) this year and now they will be allowed to go for Haj in 2021 on the basis of their application this year. Besides them, more women, who apply to go for Haj without Mehram next year, will also be facilitated, he said.
A total of 3,040 women have performed Haj after the Narendra Modi government ensured that Muslim women can perform Haj without mehram in 2018, Naqvi said, adding that a total of 2 lakh Indian Muslims had performed Haj in 2019, about 50 per cent of them being women.
In a statement, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Haj and Umrah said that due to coronavirus pandemic and the risks of it spreading in crowded spaces and large gatherings, it has been decided that Haj for this year will be held whereby a "very limited number" of pilgrims from various nationalities who already reside in Saudi Arabia, would be able to perform it.
"This decision is taken to ensure Haj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols," the statement said.
Naqvi said honouring the decision of the Saudi government because of serious challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and keeping in mind the health and well-being of the people, it was decided that Muslims from India will not go to Saudi Arabia to perform Haj this year.
The entire world is facing challenges from the coronavirus pandemic and Saudi Arabia has also been affected by it, he noted.
Haj 2020 is proposed in the period between late July and early August
The Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.
(With PTI inputs.)