With more than 10 million confirmed cases and over 500,000 deaths, the coronavirus has taken the world by surprise, changing the way we live our lives.
The impact has been felt heavily amongst the global faith communities with most religious properties closed to the public in an effort to limit the spread, with a slow reopening bearing in mind the need for social distancing.
Nowhere this is more pronounced than in Makkah and Madinah, the two holiest destinations in Islam, resulting in the cancellation of Hajj for overseas guests.
This is of course not the first time hajj has been cancelled, whether for political reasons or on account of a plague, but it doesn’t stop this being a difficult time for Muslims whose plans have been delayed.
Two British Muslims
AboutIslam spoke to two British Muslims, SH and SR, who were both due to travel to hajj this year.
While SH had not been before to Makkah for hajj or umrah, SR had performed Umrah before, saying it “was a magical experience. I’d just started to look into my faith for myself although I was born Muslim, so after my GCSE’s I invited myself when I found out my father was going.”
Describing her anticipation, SH said that Hajj was meant to be “an opportunity to worship Allah and get close to Him and to complete one of the pillars of my faith.”
As the realities of the coronavirus set in, she reluctantly realized, “I was relieved that pilgrims would not be exposed to coronavirus but also sad as it has taken me years to find a mehram who would accompany me.”
Almost like a prayer SH added, “I hope one day it will be easier for single mahram-less women to be able to do the hajj pilgrimage.”
Many Muslims do show excitement at the idea of pilgrimage, but it is often framed as a functional experience instead of a deep and meaningful religious one. In SR’s case this was her chance to capture that excitement through the eyes of an adult,
“For me it was never a tick box experience, it was a deeply spiritual one. If I could get any of my umrah ‘magic’ as an adult, and not an impressionable child, I’d be happy with that.”
Sadly circumstances changed and SH resorted to a pragmatic approach. “2020 and COVID-19, Lol no one saw that coming…Yes, that feeling in the pit of your stomach but also having faith that this too is from God and still it’s not my time, I wait again.”
Both SH and SR have been offered full refunds and SR adds, “I’ve been offered my refund but have chosen to leave it with the group operator to hold my place for next year inshaaAllah. The only difference is this time I’ve learnt to do it without expectation, grateful to be healthy and alive and say Alhamdulillah.”
Editor’s note: AboutIslam used only the initials of interviewees since they did not wish to have their full names displayed.