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Hajj Cancelled 40 Times In Past Amid Conflicts and Epidemics in Holy Sites

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This year amid COVID pandemic, the annual largest Muslim congregation, Hajj has  been cancelled off by the KSA Government. While the news might be surprising and hurting, the following fact might somehow relieve aspirants’ sentiments- history is repeating itself; this would not be the first time the pilgrimage is being scrapped off. There have been 40 cancellations in the past since 629 because of wars and epidemics. The historical loss of lives has been tragic and this time, if it can be prevented, it must be.

Every year, around two million Muslims perform the annual pilgrimage, the fifth pillar of Islam. As the Kingdom records over 1500 corona cases with 10 deaths so far, pilgrims are being called on to defer preparations and travel bookings.

Like many countries, Saudi Arabia has enforced a lockdown and curfew in an attempt to stem the outbreak, and entry to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina has been severely restricted. Riyadh has already suspended the lesser Umrah pilgrimage. Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten, minister of Hajj and Umrah, told a Saudi TV channel that Muslims – who are expected to perform Hajj at least once in their lives – should “wait before concluding contracts.”

However, if Saudi Arabia cancels 2020’s Hajj, it will be added to a list of almost 40 dramatic Hajj cancellations since the first in 629. Middle East Eye takes a look at some of the most striking cancellations in history:

Massacre on Arafat Mountain (865)

During his conflict with the Abbasid Caliphate based in Baghdad, Ismail bin Yousef, known as Al-Safak, launched an attack on the holy Arafat Mountain, massacring pilgrims there. The raid thereof forced Hajj to be cancelled.

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Qarmatian attack (930)

In 930, Abu Taher al-Janabi, the chief of the Qarmatians heterodox sect based in Bahrain, launched an attack on Mecca. Historical accounts say the Qarmatians killed 30,000 pilgrims in the holy city and dumped bodies in the sacred Zamzam well. They also looted the Grand Mosque and stole the Black Stone from its Kaaba, taking it to the island of Bahrain.

Hajj was then suspended for a decade until the Black Stone was returned to Mecca.

The Qarmatians were an Ismaili Shia sect who believed in an egalitarian society and considered pilgrimage a pagan ritual.

Abbasid and Fatimid Caliphates (983)

Politics, too, has disrupted Hajj. In 983 political disputes between the rulers of two caliphates – the Abbasids of Iraq and Syria and the Fatimids of Egypt – got in the way of Muslims travelling to Mecca for pilgrimage. It would be eight years until Hajj was held again, in 991.

Plague (1831)

Not only conflicts and massacres have cancelled Hajj. A plague from India hit Mecca in 1831 and killed three-quarters of the pilgrims there, who had endured weeks of travel through dangerous and barren lands to perform Hajj.

Series of epidemics (1837-1858)

In a span of almost two decades, Hajj was halted three times, leaving pilgrims unable to head to Mecca for a total of seven years. In 1837, another plague hit the holy city, putting things on hold until 1840.

Then in 1846 a bout of cholera hit Mecca, killing more than 15,000 people, and plagued its inhabitants until 1850. Outbreaks returned in 1865 and 1883. In 1858, another global cholera pandemic arrived in the city, prompting Egyptian pilgrims to run away to Egypt’s Red Sea shores, where they were held in quarantine.

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