As the world deals with the new normal of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries are also beginning to relax travel restrictions. Good news! Saudi Arabia is planning to gradually resume the Umrah pilgrimage from 4 October 2020. Umrah has been suspended for 7 months since March and even Hajj this year was reduced to 10,000 pilgrims from the usual 2.5 million. While the lifting of the Umrah pilgrimage ban is good news, it will be done in phases and with careful consideration. In case you're wondering if you can start planning for your Umrah yet, here are some things you need to know!
1. Locals and residents of Saudi Arabia will be able to perform the Umrah first
4 October - only 6000 pilgrims daily will be allowed to perform the Umrah at the Masjid al-Haram. This will only be for locals and residents of Saudi Arabia and social distancing measures must be followed.
18 October - The number of pilgrims will increase to 15,000 and prayers at the Prophet's mosque, Masjid Nabawi in Medina will also be resumed.
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2. Foreign travellers will only be allowed to perform the Umrah from 1 November
Starting 1 November 2020, visitors from outside Saudi Arabia will be allowed to perform the Umrah. The number of total pilgrims per day will also be increased to 20,000. In total, 60,000 pilgrims will be allowed to pray in both of the holy mosques daily.
As of now, details on which countries will be allowed to perform the Umrah have not been announced yet.
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3. There will be limited capacity and safety measures
Even with 20,000 pilgrims daily, this is still far below the usual capacity for Umrah. According to authorities, this will be the new normal until they decide that the pandemic is no longer a threat.
During the pilgrimage, all worshippers will also need to wear a face mask and maintain a their physical distance from each other.
P.S. Planning your DIY Umrah for the future? We've got all the info you need here!
4. Pilgrims will need to register using a mobile app
Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is currently developing an app which pilgrims can use to register and book on it. This will be available a week before Umrah starts and all pilgrims will also need to adhere to the health guidelines on the app. You can check out the procedures here
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5. Can you start booking Umrah packages?
For those of you from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, the answer is - not yet!
The last fatwa issued by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) on 15 May stated that the Hajj pilgrimage has been deferred to 2021. There's currently no update on Umrah and the last advisory was issued after the Umrah ban by Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
We've also checked with a travel agency in Singapore and they told us that they are still waiting for the authorities to give them more details. As of now, no plans can be made yet.
Authorities say they will get official information from the Saudi Arabian government first before any decision will be made with regards to Malaysians performing the Umrah. According to Bernama, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri will discuss the issue with the National Security Council (NSC) and the Ministry of Health (MoH) on a standard operating procedure if Malaysians are allowed to go on the pilgrimage.
Indonesian authorities are also working out a health protocol for Indonesians going on Umrah while waiting for more information from Saudi Arabia. According to kompas.com, the protocol will most likely exclude the elderly from performing Umrah as they are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. The ministry overseeing Hajj registrations also stated that whether or not Saudi Arabia will allow Indonesian pilgrims for Umrah will depend on the COVID-19 situation back home.
We'll surely bring you updates, so watch this space! If you're from other parts of the world, do check with your local religious body for updates on whether or not you'll be allowed to perform the Umrah.
While it's a long road ahead before you can perform your Umrah or even Hajj, this news is definitely a huge step in the right direction. For now, we can only pray and hope that things look up and that we will get to perform our pilgrimage in time to come.