Government negotiating with Saudi to exempt ‘coronavirus-free’ Indonesia from Umrah pilgrimage suspension

The Ka’bah in Mecca, Islam’s most sacred site.
The Ka’bah in Mecca, Islam’s most sacred site.

Muslim-majority Indonesia is dismayed by news that Saudi Arabia has temporarily closed its borders to Umrah pilgrims amid fears of the novel coronavirus outbreak, but the government says it’s trying to convince its Saudi counterparts to exempt Indonesians from the travel suspension since Indonesia has yet to officially record a single COVID-19 case in the country.

As reported by Arab News and confirmed by the Indonesian Embassy (KBRI) in Riyadh in a press release received by Coconuts, Saudi Arabia has placed a temporary ban on Umrah pilgrims and is halting the issuance of tourist visas to citizens of countries affected by the coronavirus.

The Umrah suspension has particularly affected Indonesia’s Muslims, with reports coming in that up to 200 thousand pilgrims from the country will have no choice but to cancel their holy trips in the immediate future.

KBRI Riyadh says it’s working with Saudi authorities to ensure the well-being of Indonesians currently in Saudi to perform the Umrah, while also trying to convince them to exempt Indonesians from the ban.

“Indonesia’s Ambassador [to Saudi Arabia] Agus Maftuh Abegebriel is currently approaching the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia so Indonesia’s Umrah pilgrims who have already obtained Umrah visas to enter Saudi Arabian territory, with the consideration that Indonesia is not among the countries contaminated by the coronavirus [that causes] COVID-19,” a statement in the press release said.

Umrah is not an obligatory form of pilgrimage in Islam and it can be performed at any time of the year. In contrast, Muslims are obliged to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime if they’re physically and financially capable, and it can only be performed during specific days on the Islamic calendar each year.

This year’s Hajj is expected to fall on July 28-Aug. 2. It’s not yet known if Saudi’s travel ban will be enforced until then.

There is no confirmed COVID-19 case on Indonesian soil, but nine Indonesians — all of whom are crew members of the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship — have tested positive for the disease.

Meanwhile, seven Saudi citizens have reportedly been diagnosed with COVID-19, but they tested positive for infection in neighboring Bahrain and Kuwait.

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